Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles
Playwright: David Lindsay-Abaire
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has a masterly ear for the intricacies of family relationships. And for one so young he certainly knows a lot about the many shades deep grief can wear. He also has a knack for snappy, often humorous, dialogue that is not out of place alongside such a tragic subject as the loss of a young child. It is not an easy trick to pull off, such a combination of feelings, and the thing is, Lindsay-Abaire does it with ease. Rabbit Hole, currently on stage at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, is intensely serious and very entertaining at the same time.
Rabbit Hole, is about a New York couple, Becca and Howie, whose 4 year old son was struck by a car and killed 8 months earlier. They are an upscale, well educated couple; you might say 'refined,' what some might label 'civilized.' Each faces the loss in his own way, but they are two magnets of the same polarity who repel each other every time one or the other comes too close. Wrapped in their own they do not comprehend the other's grief. Howie, Tate Donovan, seeks comfort in a grief group composed of others who have lost children; he sits alone late at night repeatedly watching a tape of his young son. Reminders comfort him. He goes through the motions of life: his job as a mortgage banker goes on, and he plays squash with an old friend after work. He would like to have sex with his wife again to get back to something one could call normal.
On the other hand, Becca, Amy Ryan, had quit her job at Sotheby's to be a full time mom and now isolates her self at home using whatever she can to keep emotion at bay. At all times she is the bristling picture of composure, and she always has a just baked gourmet treat to give to whomever she allows in. Just like old times. She turns the subject to others and attempts to cope with her loss by putting family photographs and art-work by her son out of sight. She would even like to sell their perfect house because it holds so many memories of him. She is very touchy, no one can get close to Becca; certainly sex is the furthest thing from her mind.
Becca did not come from such classy roots. Izzy, Missy Yager, her pregnant younger sister, first appears as an airhead who cannot understand what the problem is with her having decked another woman in a bar or her having lost the only job she has been able to get-- at Applebees; she thinks pregnancy will somehow fix it all. A child "is exactly the sort of thing that gives you clarity," she says to her sister. Becca's older brother, a heroin addict, committed suicide years before, and her mother, Nat, played by Joyce Van Patten, is a sweet old thing, never far from a glass of wine, and often putting her foot in her mouth in her awkward attempts to comfort her daughter with recollections of Nat's own grief when her son committed suicide.
Alignments within the family shift around. Sibling rivalry morphs into the women vs. Mom, which in turn can become Mom with one sister against the other, only to swing back into sibling rivalry. Becca and Howie shift from uniting in opposition to her family and then back again. It is the family dance: the enemy of my enemy is my friend--but we are bound together through it all. Family ties endure.
Wisdom arrives in surprising places. Izzy turns out to have common sense, a grounding in the real world the lofty couple do not quite grasp. Becca's mother describes how the pain goes away, how as time passes the tragedy no longer becomes the focus of every moment. Add to the mix a visit from Jason, Trevor O'Brien, the teenager who accidentally struck the child, and some of the deadlock begins to break apart. Death affects everyone in its circle. The Rabbit Hole is what they have been sucked into. Can anyone outside really feel their pain? Probably not, but they cannot really feel each other either.
With uniformly fine acting and timing, a subject that is both deep and entertaining, Rabbit Hole is well worth seeing. If there is any fault, and not all may agree, it is with the final resolution. Had the curtain been a scene earlier, the ending would have been enigmatic and more powerful. Instead the final scene brought a tidy end, more like Hollywood than like the fine theater of the previous two hours.