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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Rabbit Hole Receives Exemplary Staging in
New Jersey Premiere

Also see Bob's review of Garden of Earthly Delights

 

Rabbit Hole
T.J. McNeill, Tom Hammond
and Sue Cremin

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his understated, un-histrionic family tragedy, Rabbit Hole.  Premiere Stages is now bringing this play to New Jersey audiences in a thoroughly naturalistic, understated production which maximizes the effectiveness of the play by fully capturing its mood and nuisances.

Rabbit Hole takes us into the home of a suburban New York couple trying to cope as best they can with the most dreadful of family tragedies.  Eight months earlier, Becca and Howie's only child, 4-year-old Danny, was run over and killed by a 17-year-old driver after running out into the street in pursuit of the family dog.   The play concludes three months later as the broken, desperately unhappy and divided-against-themselves Becca and Howie experience a moment of resignation.

Many critics and audiences have found Rabbit Hole to be deeply moving, insightful and gracefully written.  However, there has been a sharp division in critical and audience response.

Earlier, Lindsay-Abaire had established himself as a major American playwright with a series of the funniest, most imaginative American absurdist farces ever written.  Rabbit Hole is often written gracefully and with a sense of unadorned honesty.  However, it seems to me that Lindsay-Abaire has applied his considerable talent to a soap opera style TV movie of the week. There is neither any cathartic satisfaction nor theatrical insight to transcend the genre.  It is more textbook than it is good theatre.

Furthermore, three (sometimes, four) of the five characters are self-centered to the point of not giving a damn for those closest to them.  I do not deny that people under extreme stress act badly in real life, but there is not sufficient compensation here for spending two hours with them.

Becca does show concern for others in the midst of her own suffering.  However, Howie is so wrapped up in his own sense of loss that he can no longer extend any consideration or comfort to her. Becca's selfish, alcoholic mother Nat is only interested in stoking the martyrdom that she derives from the years ago death of her grown drug addicted son.  Becca's pregnant sister Izzy has her own substance abuse problems, but after some selfish behavior at the start, she does eventually show concern for Becca.  Most maddening of all is Jason, the 17-year-old high school senior who accidentally ran down Danny.  His painful intrusions on Becca and Howie in search of absolution from them are selfish, but understandable.  However, after the sensitive and kind Becca grants it unequivocally, he insensitively and cruelly tells her, "I might have been driving too fast that day; 32-33 in a 30 mile zone. I swerved to avoid hitting the dog, thought you should know."  Neither the author nor Becca give any indication that Jason has done anything untoward.

The production at hand makes a strong case for Rabbit Hole. The intimate theatre has a few rows of seats placed on two contiguous sides of a large, detailed, beautifully designed set (Joseph Gourley) which fills most of the theatre. It facilitates the quiet, naturalistic and perfectly pitched performance under the loving direction of John Wooten.

Particularly persuasive is Sue Cremin's Becca.  Cremin achingly conveys a woman who has lost the core reason for her existence, and is trying to find meaning in the chores of her everyday life. Facially, Cremin displays the chipping away of Becca's determination to care for those around her despite their mistreatment of her. After a bit of stiffness in his opening scene, Tom Hammond settles in and allows us to see that Howie's selfish behavior arises from his inability to cop with his loss. Lisa Velten-Smith adds to the evening's verisimilitude with an unfussy performance as the easily stereotyped Izzy.   It is to the good that Sheila Stasack draws fewer laughs as the troublesome Nat than did Tyne Daly on Broadway.  However, Stasack seemed to be reaching for them.  T.J. McNeill is a solid Jason.

If the award winning Rabbit Hole sounds like it is up your alley, by all means see it now.  It can't get much better than this.

Rabbit Hole continues performances (Thursday – Saturday 8 p.m./Sunday 3 p.m./ Friday - 9/19 - 2 p.m.) through September 23, 2009 at Premiere Stages, in residence at the Zella Fry Theatre at Kean University, 1000 Morris Ave., Union, NJ. 07083, Box Office: 908-737-SHOW (7469); online: www.kean.edu.

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire; directed by John Wooten
Cast
Becca…………………..Sue Cremin
Izzy……………. Lisa Velten-Smith
Howie……………...Tom Hammond
Nat…………………..Sheila Stasack
Jason…………………..T.J. McNeill


Photo: Roy Groething


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- Bob Rendell



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