The storyline takes up months after Danny, the four-year-old son of Becca (Erika Rolfsrud) and Howie (Dylan Chalfy), was killed by a car in front of the family's Larchmont, New York, home. The play opens as Becca's wacky, uninhibited, comic-relief sister Izzy (Joey Parsons) pays a visit. Erika sorts out and caringly folds her little boy's outfits (newly washed) as Izzy bops in and eventually explains that she is newly pregnant.
Rabbit Hole deals directly with the unthinkable: the untimely, accidental death of a young child who was the entire focus of his parents' existenceand the ultimate implications. Nat (Jo Twiss), mother of Becca, later appears and attempts to provide perspective. Jason (Alec Silberblatt), the teenage driver who was at the wheel when Danny dashed into the road, is introduced during the first act. Later, Jason comes to the Larchmont house, which is up for sale, and haltingly explicates .... apologizes even as no one blames him in the least for what has occurred, for having smashed into the boy.
Designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella provides an intimate, warm, immediate setting. Upstage we find a kitchen, mostly in white save for the stainless steel contemporary refrigerator. John Lasiter's lighting, featuring sunlight entering through a small side window, is revealing as the time moves from February during act one to early May after intermission. Hegel-Cantarella also furnishes a dining room table on a middle level of staging and comfy sofa nearest the audience and far downstage.
Rob Ruggiero's specific direction allows for five deep-rooted performances. Erika Rolfsrud, who stood by as Becca for the New York City production of the play, is absolutely riveting. Her eyes, wide and revelatory, tell all. She is suffering and, quite possibly, cannot emerge whole and ever fully recover from the tragedy. Sensitive, vulnerable, hurt, tender, and impassioned, Rolfsrud is fully convincing. It is difficult to imagine anyone more impressive in the role.
Chalfy, as Howie, does his best work during the second act. Earlier on, he yells a bit too vehemently. Better that he would express his conflicting reactions through vocal modulation. Emotions, including anger, are often best evidenced as an actor varies his presentation. This is a relatively minor quibble. Chalfy is, to large measure, ardent and persuasive. The actor connects with his characterDanny's agitated father.
Lindsay-Abaire wisely includes Izzy who has problems of her own but couches them as she plays the eccentric sister, the cutup. Becca bakes pastries and Izzy devours the goodies. Izzy also says what she feels and her reactions are out there on the table whether one likes them or not.
All of the production elements supporting Rabbit Hole are splendid and this includes instrumental rock 'n' roll sound interludes designed by Vincent Olivieri. The center of the play, however, is the inevitable and unbearable sorrow which penetrates the lives of young parents, Becca and Howie. Lindsay-Abaire is highly skilled and his words are punctuated, delivered, embodied, and experienced through the top-notch performances of a most affecting cast.
Rabbit Hole continues at TheaterWorks of Hartford through July 20th. For ticket and schedule information, call (860) 527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.
- Fred Sokol