Saturday, September 23, 2006

Rabbit Hole (Cleveland Play House)

Realistic ‘RABBIT HOLE’ opens the season at CPH

‘RABBIT HOLE,’ which is now in production at the Cleveland Play House, is, as one reviewer of the New York production stated, “almost unbearable to watch at times due to its insistence on presenting a tragedy and its consequences with utter candor, and without sentimentality.” This comment is a tribute to the play. In addition, it is generally true of the CPH production.

The story involves a 4-year-old boy whom we never meet, and a car that swerves in the wrong direction at the wrong time. What we share is the fall out.

David Lindsay-Abaire has created an emotional play. But, unlike many plays broaching the topic of death, he does it with humor, pathos and a strong psychological understanding of the situation. It isn’t a morbid play. It is a realistic look at how not only the family, but the teenager who was driving the car are affected by a momentary incident.

I must admit, I had difficult sitting comfortably in my seat during the production. Having lost a grandson, my mind keep shooting off-stage to my life and that of our family and our reactions then and the legacy the experience has left. Though the incident was not the same, the same raw emotions are. In addition, I counsel people who are survivors of trauma. So be aware that I can’t be unbiased in my thoughts and feelings about the play.

Becca and Howie Corbett have everything a family could want. The accidental death of their son turns their world upside down. They are left adrift in their feelings and thoughts, floating further and further away from each other as one turns to a support group and the other turns inward. Each finds that their method of coping doesn’t work.

I found the CPH production, under the guidance of Artistic Director Michael Bloom, to be basically on target. This is a difficult play to stage. With the wrong approach it could be a maudlin experience, or if overdone, a melodrama. Neither of these outcomes is the intent of the author. Bloom and his cast stay true to the script’s intent by allowing the humor to come through, the pathos to be present, and the melodrama nonexistent.

As Becca, the woman who gave up her career to become a mother, only to suffer a catastrophic loss, Angela Reed nicely walks the thin line between emotional control and hysteria. Her contained emotion parallels many trauma sufferers, who believe that “being strong” entails having no feelings. And, finally, when her body screams loudly enough so that she cannot hold the emotional angst in any longer, her primal scream is heard and felt by her and the audience. This is a fine performance.

Danton Stone is not quite as successful as Becca’s husband, Howie. At times, especially at the beginning of the production, he acts rather than reacts to the lines and their intent and comes across as disingenuous. He seemed to grow into the part as the evening progressed.

Troy Deutsch is right on target as the teenage driver of the death car. His nervous inappropriate giggle on his first entrance, his awkward stance and facial expressions, his halting speech were typical of being over-stressed and confused as he attempts to state the feelings and thoughts which can’t be said with clarity.

Much of the comic relief in the play comes from Becca's encounters with her less than perfect mother and sister, who keep dropping by to keep her company. Both sense her unspoken disapproval of them, but they love her too much to let that get in the way of being there. These parts, which wavered between being overly self-absorbed and empathetic, were well played by Kat Skinner (Nat) and Genevieve Elam (Izzy)

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: I found the ‘RABBIT HOLE’ experience absorbing, at times humorous, but, most importantly, realistic. It is a snapshot of our family and all the other people who have gone through similar experiences. It’s a production worth seeing.