In a typical suburban home, a woman folds laundry—a young child’s clothes—as she chats with her sister. It’s all typical enough until the sister hesitantly reveals she is pregnant. As we quickly learn, this is a difficult and loaded topic because her nephew, the woman’s child, was recently killed in a tragic accident.
Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is an exceptional play that examines the profound effects of grief. Eight months prior to the events depicted, Becca (Jordana Oberman) and Howie’s (Michael Yurchak) 4-year-old son Danny chased his dog into the street and was hit by a car and killed. This story is not about the accident itself. There are no slow, deliberate reveals of what really happened that day, no twists and turns, just a quiet exploration of how five people close to the tragedy are struggling to cope. Becca, a stay-at-home mom and perfect hostess who always has an impeccably baked treat ready for all occasions, is almost frantic in her grief, focusing on removing reminders of Danny from the house and even wanting to move. Howie’s grief is very different—he continues to find solace in a support group for bereaved parents that Becca quickly dismissed and obsessively watches home movies of Danny, resenting Becca’s efforts to diminish his presence in their home. They clash over small things, like Becca sending the dog to live with her mother, unable to forget its role in the accident, which feels like a second, unnecessary loss to Howie. There are also much larger issues—Howie suggests trying for another baby, which deeply offends Becca, who is not even at a point of being ready for intimacy again.
There is also Becca’s mother, Nat (Darcy Shean), who feels her own experience losing a child (her son, a heroin addict, killed himself at age 30) gives her some authority to help her daughter, who only resents the comparison. Izzy (Toni Christopher), Becca’s sister who has always been the one who doesn’t have her life together, is hesitant to express joy over her pregnancy because of the painful reminders it presents, and harbors her own questions of guilt about the day of the accident—it was Izzy’s phone call Becca briefly went into the house to answer, leaving Danny and the dog to slip through an unlatched gate. The greatest guilt is harbored by Jason (Rocky Collins), the teenage driver of the car, who unexpectedly reaches out to Becca and Howie in an attempt to come to terms with his own grief.
Directed here by Eric Hunicutt, it is easy to see why Rabbit Hole won a Pulitzer. It is masterfully written and excels at mining ordinary conversations and moments to find deep emotion, all without being overly direct. Becca and her mom can pack up Danny’s room and manage to have an almost lighthearted discussion, except for a brief moment when a tiny pair of shoes almost breaks Nat. When Jason nervously tells Becca a story about his recent prom and she bursts into tears, we understand without anyone saying that she is crying because her own son will never go to prom. It’s beautiful, subtle writing that creates an honest, full picture of the different ways unspeakable grief can manifest, and how unbelievably difficult it is to simply continue living.
The performances are mostly solid, anchored by Oberman. This is primarily Becca’s story, and she finds many layers of her persona, adeptly relaying that she is hanging by the thinnest of threads. The play demands something very different of Yurchak, but he also rises to the occasion, showing that while Howie has been able to continue his daily routine more successfully than Becca, he is just as devastated. The entire play takes place in their home, in a set nicely done by Lily Bartenstein, and for much of the show Danny’s unoccupied room looms large over the stage, forcing the audience to live with his memory just as the characters do.
Rabbit Hole is not an easy play to watch by any means, and I found myself on the verge of tears many times. The subject matter is so unimaginably awful and so draining to consider, but Lindsay-Abaire’s script finds unexpected moments of levity, whether from Izzy’s relationship woes or Becca’s misguided attack of another mom at the supermarket. Thankfully, the story ends with a glimmer of hope, some optimism that one day, everyone will learn to carry their grief and move on as much as is humanly possible. Also optimistic in a devastating way is a short story Jason writes in Danny’s memory and shares with Becca—a story about rabbit holes to parallel worlds, worlds in which things are different and those who are gone can be found again. Like everything about the play, it is incredibly poignant. If you have never seen a staging before, or if you have only seen the 2010 film version starring Nicole Kidman, which I found to be not as effective, this production is a solid rendition of what will surely go down as a modern classic.
Rabbit Hole runs at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood through May 14th. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm. The running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets cost $25 ($15 for students) and can be purchased here.