Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Rabbit Hole
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Waitress

Patti Suarez and Larah Pawlowski
Photo by Mark Gluckman
While the title of David Lindsay-Abaire's play Rabbit Hole may allude to the fantasy world of "Alice in Wonderland," this expertly written drama is anything but fantastical. It focuses on the day to day lives of normal people and how grief impacts them as they struggle to deal with the aftermath of the death of a child. Theatre Artists Studio's beautifully moving and smartly directed production of this Pulitzer Prize winning play features a superb cast led by Larah Pawlowski as the mother of the child.

The story is centered on Becca and Howie, a couple in their 30s who are struggling as they attempt to handle the impact of the death of their 4-year-old son Danny, who was killed in an auto accident. The play begins eight months after the incident, and over two acts and several months we witness their ongoing suffering and see how sometimes people are simply unable to find a way to express in words their grief.

Rabbit Hole is one of the best written plays of the last 15 years. It's a moving drama that depicts how people handle heartache and loss in their own distinct ways. Lindsay-Abaire's realistic characters and natural dialogue are so smartly written, his structure builds with each scene adding important information and his plot doesn't have a single extraneous moment. Every interaction and plot development adds to the emotional journey all of the characters take. While it's a play that centers on dealing with loss, Rabbit Hole is also a drama about family dynamics and how sometimes the closest relationships can negatively impact the struggle for someone to deal with, overcome, and put into perspective the sudden obstacles and setbacks that life brings.

Barbara Acker's subtle but smart direction ensures that each actor infuses their character with realness and she doesn't add any unnecessary stage moments to the perfect script. Her blocking isn't busy, which adds natural movement to the entire production as it plays out on Mark Baris' excellently designed set.

As the grieving mother Becca, Larah Pawlowski beautifully portrays the emotionally isolated woman who can't quite figure out how to handle the devastation of losing her child. Pawlowski's measured line delivery and direct but quiet demeanor slowly reveal the tightly controlled woman with pain, rage and emotion simmering beneath the surface. Every interaction with her husband, mother or sister is now strained and has the possibility of evoking disagreement, resentment or the possibility of blame. From the tense relationship with her husband Howie, who is dealing with loss in his own way, to the other parents at the group grief session whom Becca finds irritating in how they attribute their loss to God's will, over the course of the play Pawlowski effortlessly demonstrates Becca's initial inability to connect with anyone with what she experienced. Her natural and fluent portrayal is haunting, heartbreaking and moving in its subtle impact, though, fortunately, Lindsay-Abaire affords a glimmer of hope for Becca and Howie toward the play's end.

Patti Suarez is superb as Becca's mother Nat, who also suffered the loss of a child several years back and is trying her best to find some way to relate to her daughter's predicament. The scene she shares with Pawlowski, with Nat telling Becca that the loss of a child is a heavy, desolate feeling and one that may change but "never goes away," is infused with subtleness and heartache. Ashley Faulkner is very good as Becca's younger sister Izzy. The play begins with Izzy informing Becca that she is pregnant with her boyfriend's child, and Faulkner's fluent and natural portrayal expertly shows Izzy's flighty and unfocused nature. From the realistic sisterly nature Faulkner and Pawlowski bring to their scenes together, we understand how in the past the rational and sympathetic Becca would have been joyous at the news of her sister's pregnancy and Izzy's realization that she needs to grow up and finally be a responsible adult, but instead it now evokes an almost nonstop barrage of pain, suffering and hurt.

Ben Rojek is good as Howie, whose way of dealing with his son's death is to watch videos of Danny and who finds some solace in attending group therapy sessions. From Rojek's clear portrayal we get a distinct picture of this man who tries his best to reconnect with his wife, even though they are clearly struggling. As Jason, the boy who was driving the car that struck Danny, Nathaniel Smith is appropriately captivating. In just three short scenes we get a clear sense of the suffering this young man is going through and how he doesn't want forgiveness for what happened but just someone to talk to who can relate to his pain as a way to relieve himself of his guilt. It is an authentic and beautifully moving performance.

Is there a right way to grieve? How long should someone be allowed to suffer? Does the pain of the loss of a child ever go away? These are just a few of the many questions that David Lindsay-Abaire raises and which are expertly relayed in Theatre Artists Studio's solid production.

Rabbit Hole is a beautifully moving story about how hope can be found even in the darkest of times and the small steps one must take in order to cope with loss.

Rabbit Hole, through October 21, 2018, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. Tickets are on sale at or by calling 602-765-0120

Director/Prop Design: Barbara Acker
Set Design: Mark Baris
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Costume Design: Dolores D'Amore Goldsmith
Sound Design: Tony and Mary Robinson

Becca: Larah Pawlowski
Nat: Patti Suarez
Izzy: Ashley Faulkner
Howie: Ben Rojek
Jason: Nathaniel Smith

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