• ‘Rabbit Hole’ a picture of connection, dysfunction

    Posted on November 26, 2013 by Kimberly Koerth in Reviews.

    “Rabbit Hole” is the second play I’ve seen by David Lindsay-Abaire. This take on the 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner, which was adapted into a 2010 film starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, is much stronger than the performance of “Fuddy Meers” I saw a couple years ago. It’s built on a signature Lindsay-Abaire gimmicky premise, but the emotion filling in the plot is honest, and the overall package is simpler.

    The play marks a change of pace for Space 55, which is typically a source of lighter comedic fare rather than full-length dramas. However, the theatre’s small stage worked perfectly for this production, operating alternately as a dining/living room and a child’s bedroom with enough furnishings to seem realistic without detracting from the core of the performance — the actors.

    The play puts us in the lives of Becca and Howie Corbett, a couple coping with the death of their 4-year-old son after he chased his dog into the street and was hit by a car driven by a high school student named Jason.

    (Courtesy of Space 55)

    “Rabbit Hole” explored the dynamic between Howie, played by Michael Hanelin, and Becca, played by Colleen Hartnett, after the death of the couple’s son. (Photo by Kimberly Koerth)

    We meet Becca’s sister, Izzy, who’s pregnant and of questionable maturity, and their mother Nat. It is through each of their eyes that an accurate picture of the family is painted.

    We see how tensions between characters disappear when they’re united against another member of the family and how nobody seems to understand anybody else or respect their differences. We see how each person copes, as well as what little things set them off. “Rabbit Hole” illuminates some profound things about grief and the way it can penetrate a family.

    Each of the play’s five actors had strengths and weaknesses throughout the course of their time on stage. Colleen Hartnett stunned as Becca in emotionally intense moments but was overshadowed by Shellie Ulrich’s Izzy in more intermediary conversational scenes. Izzy and Nat’s quirks made them instantly likeable, but the journey it took to empathize with Becca was powerful.

    Becca’s husband, Howie, played by Michael Hanelin, literally held her at arm’s length even as he was trying to rebuild their connections. That physical distance from each other did more to illustrate their relationship’s dynamic than any conversation, and the few moments they did touch were even more powerful for that reason.

    Besides my qualms with the lack of consistent high quality in the actors’ performances, their ages were also a little disconcerting. Hartnett looked quite a bit younger than her husband, though both are supposed to be in their late 30s. Ulrich seemed a little young for 32, as did her character’s personality, while Michael Coleman’s Jason was a little old for high school. Still, the mostly strong acting covered up these discrepancies and prevented them from being too distracting.

    Plays that build toward a climax only to accelerate through the resolution often leave their audience feeling jilted. Especially when you’re working with a tight emotional framework, it’s important to maintain a consistent pace.

    The end of “Rabbit Hole” came a little suddenly, but I wasn’t shocked by the play’s conclusion. It made sense; it just didn’t feel built-up-to enough. There should have been more signs along the way, more reason for what was to come. I don’t know if this is the fault of the script or the acting, but it diminished what should have been a cathartic conclusion to a moment that was only satisfying.

    I took issue with a lot of small pieces of this performance of “Rabbit Hole.” The cast’s ages were mismatched, the acting was inconsistent, the tempo felt off. Beyond all that, though, “Rabbit Hole” is a great play and the actors did an excellent job performing it at Space 55. The emotional message of the play is stellar and worth experiencing. Its real purpose transcends small problems of quality and manages to shine through, creating an enjoyable and impactful experience.

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