Rabbit Hole, David Lindsay-Abaire's gentle and surprisingly funny play about unthinkable loss, is receiving a radiant production in its Washington area premiere at the Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs. Director Mitchell Hébert demonstrates a light touch with his five actors, whose performances depend as heavily on what they don't say as what they do.
Lindsay-Abaire's play, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama, focuses on Becca (Deborah Hazlett) and Howie (Paul Morella), a comfortably upper-middle-class couple with a large house in suburban Larchmont, New York, beautifully appointed in Marie-Noëlle Daigneault's scenic design. However, these seemingly enviable people are trying desperately to cope with the accidental death of their 4-year-old son eight months earlier.
The gradations of character are subtle and fascinating. Becca seems to have been the "successful," high-achieving child of her family, compared with her rough-edged sister Izzy (Megan Anderson) and their brother who, years ago, lost his battle with heroin addiction. Nat (Kate Kiley), mother of Becca and Izzy, tends to take over any space she enters, and is clearly not the easiest person to deal with, even under perfect circumstances.
The play examines how Becca and Howie seek comfort, separately and together. Becca, the woman who did everything right, tries to make sense of a senseless tragedy, fighting to keep her pain at a manageable level by packing away little Danny's clothes and dwelling on every detail of the accident. In contrast, Howie works to keep his son's memory alive in his mind and becomes active with a support group for bereaved parents. They both know that they don't want the tragedy to destroy their bond, but they each have trouble accepting what the other is prepared to offer.
Rather than dwelling on depression and sentimentality, Rabbit Hole bursts with unexpected humor. As circumstances drive Becca and Howie away from each othershe to meet with the guilt-ridden high school student whose car ran down her son (Aaron Bliden), he to find friendships away from the familythe dialogue demonstrates the self-protective and darkly witty ways that people cope with grief. (The most intense confrontations occur offstage, to be relayed in dialogue.)
Olney Theatre Center