Reviewed by Stephen Radosh
When a play’s cast truly functions as an ensemble, with every member making a contribution of equal import, regardless of the size of the role, then theatrical magic occurs. Such is the case with the current DezartPerforms production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s RABBIT HOLE.
The story is a heartfelt one of an apparently well-healed and once-happy couple who suffer the unimaginable tragedy of losing their 4 year old son in an accident. Reaction to a catastrophic event like this can either draw a couple even closer or, as is the case here, start to pull them apart. Their ways of handling the grief thrust upon them are polar opposites. Becca (Yo Younger) wants to erase any evidence of their son from her sight. His clothes are to be given away, his pictures which once hung on the fridge are now in the basement, packed away in boxes which she most likely intends to never open again. Even the family dog which was part of the chain of events leading to their son’s death has been given to Becca’s mother. On the other hand, Howie (Michael Shaw) is dealing with his son’s passing by trying to keep him fresh in his memory. He repeatedly watches a video of his son taken shortly before his death in a trance-like manner that suggests he is reliving the recorded events as if they just happened thus keeping his son alive, if only for a few precious moments. Thus as each mourns in his or her own way, the rift between them grows larger with every passing day. Refusing any professional help, in fact denying to herself that she even needs any, it seems that the ice around Becca’s heart will eventually destroy not only her marriage but possibly herself as well. It is not until Becca agrees to meet with Jason, the young man driving the car which struck and killed her son, that we get the feeling that she might be able to finally start healing.
Kudos belong to everyone involved in this magnificent production. The scenic design by Thomas L. Valach, despite the physical limitations of the stage, manages to beautifully convey a roomy home in the suburbs. Phil Murphy’s lighting design perfectly focuses the action and sets just the right tone to match the ever-changing moods of those onstage.
As directed by Scott Smith, this production never sinks into the maudlin or melodramatic mode found so often in TV movies of this ilk. He keeps his cast moving at a brisk but natural pace and, most importantly, lets the humor in the script (yes, there are some very funny moments) come through naturally and not as forced comic relief.
Each member of the cast shines. Jonathan Hatsios, as Jason, the unfortunate driver who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, brings earnestness to the role in his desire to express his regrets and in his hope for forgiveness.
As Izzy, Becca’s non-conformist sister with a slight tendency to self-medicate with pills and alcohol, Phylicia Mason makes her a believable three dimensional person on the verge of getting it together due to her unexpected pregnancy. It is this pregnancy which accelerates the emotional strain and creates a dichotomy of feelings in Becca.
As Becca’s mother, Nat, Deborah Harmon brings much of the humor to the play, especially in the scene where she is explaining her theory on how the Kennedy’s were a cursed family. But she also shows the true love she has for her daughters and we know that she is feeling pain at seeing Becca in such a state of grief.
Michael Shaw as the grieving Howie, creates a richly textured character which, in the hands of a lesser actor, could easily become a two-dimensional cliché. His attempts to reach Becca on an empathetic level of compassion are truly touching. When he can’t take her denial and rejections of intimacy anymore, we see his entire control and patience melt away in the blink of an eye, as he explodes and shows her (and the audience) the depth of his own pain and sadness.
Yo Younger as Becca once again delivers a beautifully nuanced performance to add to her already impressive list. Not a word or an innuendo goes unregistered by her. We can see how the most innocently made statement takes on the sharpness of an arrow as it tears into her already wounded heart. Ms. Younger never allows the character to even begin to sound clichéd or melodramatic. Every painful word or thought is a moment of honesty delivered at exactly the right pitch. It is a magnificent performance from a truly gifted actress.
With RABBIT HOLE, DEZARTPERFORMS, which has always delivered productions of professional quality, has raised the bar once again to new heights. You owe it to yourself to quickly get a seat and see what lightning in a bottle really looks like!
RABBIT HOLE runs thru January 21, 2018. Go to www.dezartperforms.org
for details and ticket reservations.