MIDVALE – David Lindsay-Abaire‘s Rabbit Hole is a considerable work. Chock-full of raw and expressive dialogue, it is so no wonder that the script won the Pulitzer Prize for this work in 2007. Utah Repertory Theatre Company takes on quite a task with this play, as the content is mature and difficult, and yet, they succeed in some of the places that are downright hard, and fall a bit short in others.
The central issues in this play are grief, death, and life. Becca and Howie have lost their son and are figuring out how life continues on with this enormous loss. Becca’s sister, Izzy, has found out she is pregnant by a newish boyfriend, and struggles with the guilt of bringing life into the world while her sister is in the depths of grief. Nat—Becca and Izzy’s mother—struggles with the grief of losing her grandson, the loss of her own son years earlier, and the sadness she feels for her daughter. Howie tries different methods to cope with his grief, but can’t seem to connect with his wife.
Even though the location and time of this piece is contained, there are so many issues that Lindsay-Abaire touches on. One of the most fascinating themes in the writing is the idea of different ways to grieve, and how those ways pitted conflict with one another. Howie finds comfort in continuing to pursue former hobbies, but also needs to go to the support group and find ease through people. Becca, on the other hand, doesn’t want the support of people; she wants to put reminders away, but is also more willing to directly face the incident of her son’s death. Becca wants to talk to the boy responsible for the car accident that took her son in order to understand his point of view and come to terms with what happened. Regardless of the different ways grief is manifested, it soon becomes obvious, through the artistry of the writing, that there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve.
Set designer Justin Jenkins has created a unique set for this production. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the space is wrong, but I was constantly aware that I was sitting in a theatre-type space, and I’m not sure that that is what was intended. The set design showed me a slice of the inside of a house, complete with wallpaper and all the knickknacks inside a typical home. To the side of the living room is the inside of Danny’s bedroom, a constant reminder of his presence in the house, bringing the physical aspects of loss closer to home. The lighting, designed by Blake Delwisch, is somewhat simple in this production. There were moments when the lights dimmed, but mainly the lights were either on or off, and Delwisch could have gone further to direct attention and set mood.
I appreciate the weight and maturity Vicki Pugmire brings to the role of Nat. Every time Pugmire is on stage her movements and lines are thoroughly in sync with the character. When she handles her props she has already imbued them with a value or history. In fact, the most evocative moment of this production is when Nat and Becca are sitting on the couch discussing how the pain of loss changes and almost becomes manageable. Ali Lente as Becca brings a force with her in her acting, maybe at times overriding the smaller moments of the piece. Yet, Lente is fully engaged every moment, and gives her fellow actors her full attention and energy, listening and reacting in kind.
Director JayC Stoddard thoroughly explores the dialogue, the themes, and issues of Rabbit Hole. Stoddard’s attention to grief, pain, and time certainly helped to give this production an overlying focus. There were, however, a couple of things that made me feel uneasy about the world, or rules of the play. While all the aspects of the set were realistic, the frames on the wall were empty, and even though there is a line in the play referring to the idea that all the pictures of Danny were taken down, it looked stylistic instead of realistic. The entrances and exits also were often abrupt and disjointed considering the nature of the set.
Even though I was transported to the living room of Becca and Howie’s home, the pictures Stoddard created onstage felt a bit claustrophobic at times. For example, major points of tension in the play took place on a small love seat where the actors sat side by side, and the action in Danny’s room seemed restricted and confined. In addition, there is a moment in the play where Jason writes a letter to Becca, and is in the rafters of the stage, a moment that left me wondering what the choice to have him above the action meant. Is he supposed to represent a god-like figure, or was the director limited by the space of the theatre?
One of the most troubling aspects of this show was, in certain areas, the acting. Because the writing of this piece is so beautiful and poignant, for the most part the actors did a fantastic job of conveying the messages. Yet, at times, I couldn’t help but feel that the actors, and specifically the actor playing Izzy (Jillian Joy), were judging their characters, instead of fully conveying and reflecting the feelings and situations of the character. I wished that I could have experienced the words and emotions without being thwarted by the gags of the actors.
Despite these setbacks, I thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiasm and effort that this production team put into their work. I think that Rabbit Hole in general is a must see, and this particular version is emotional and, at times, riveting.