At the loss of a child, parents may find themselves in dark emotional corners they didn't know existed. Could they have imagine the sadness, the guilt, the questioning of their faith? It's not surprising that couples break up during their grief, or that they disagree on having another child or making other changes in their lives. In David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize winning Rabbit Hole, a family is dealing with the loss of a child due to an accident. As expected, it's at times quite sad, but perhaps it's the fact that Lindsay-Abaire provides an imperfect but realistic family who brings us fully into their plight that stirs such emotion. Grief manifests itself in many different ways, and Rabbit Hole is one story about one family and how they react to such a loss.
Becca (Erika Rolsfsrud, the Broadway understudy for the role) and Howie (Dylan Chalfy) probably seemed to have it all - they were most likely envied by some people. But after suffering a loss that is feared by every parent, they have little. Oh, they function and go on with their lives - but their grief is always near the surface, and it breaks through in sudden ways. Each parent has the same emotions, but they take different directions toward coping without completely losing it. This pulls them apart; it's impossible for one to console the other, as they can barely handle their own grief. Even in a close family, grief causes conflict. Becca's sister Izzy (a quite delightful Joey Parsons) is a free spirit. She's also kind and she looks up to her sister in many ways. She wants to be comfort to her sister. Their mother, Nat (Jo Twiss), has had her own loss, and now she must grieve this death as a grandmother. Izzie and Nat have the difficult task of internalizing their sadness in order to try to help Becca. The least likely person to help is the teenaged Jason (Alec Silberblatt, who acquits himself wonderfully in his professional debut), yet he succeeds in providing the final patch that allows the family to begin to recover.
On Luke Hegel-Cantarella's nicely designed homey set, the cast presents well-developed characters. The interplay, spoken and unspoken, lands perfectly, and it only takes a few minutes to identify with family. Lindsay-Abaire has written them well, the cast plays them well, and director Rob Ruggiero pulls it all together perfectly. Is there a lesson to be learned? Not really, but it's possible Rabbit Hole will generate more thought and consideration than many a more didactic story. Most of us can imagine being a parent, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or even an outsider, who must work through the mire of feelings pulling us under in such a crisis.
Rabbit Hole runs through May 18 at O'Reilly Theater for Pittsburgh Public Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org or the box office.