Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole

-Theatre Review by Nairobi Collins

Rabbit Hole, now playing at the Vagabond Theatre in Baltimore, February 27th -March 29, is a foray into one family’s torment. After suffering the loss of a young child, Danny, everyone seeks inward understanding and closure. Each character struggles to cope and to resume a normal life, but deep scars linger.

In the beginning, audiences glimpse a lovely home filled with all the accouterments of a successful middle-class lifestyle. There is a neatly kept kitchen with a back door and window treatments as well as a refrigerator stocked with food. An adjacent dining room connects to a warm colored living room, complete with a working television and matching couch and loveseat. Then there is the staircase leading to the deceased child’s bedroom. Here, Danny’s playthings lay scattered about, prompting too recent memories of a child’s life. Suddenly, the subtle coziness of this picture gives way to shadows, as powerful lighting and sound cues simulate the stark reality of a scarred home where the family mourns the tragedy of Danny’s accidental death.

“It looked liked things were finished here,” Jason (Brendon Morrisson) tells Howie (Don Kamman), in a tense encounter. Jason is the maladroit teenager who drove the car that struck Howie’s son. Angered by the teen’s intrusion into his house, “Well, they’re not!” Howie, replies in a rage so tense, the air crackles and burns. Howie’s shock has not worn off, and the scene is set for wounds to deepen and emotions to hemorrhage.

“Don’t you think you should do something to fix things up a bit?” Izzy, (Ryan Gunning) tells her sister Becca (Zarah Rautell), as the two consider what to do about Danny’s belongings. Newly pregnant, Izzy’s comical and upbeat personality adds light, balancing the play’s darker moments. Earlier in the play, Becca picks her sister up after a bar fight, possibly prompted by Izzy’s promiscuity. Izzy’s irresponsible antics, are meant to be a foil to her sister’s prim facade. Becca, for that matter, seems to contain a bomb waiting to explode. She is cold and emotionally unavailable, yet she can also be very accommodating, often offering her family comforts and acting the part of gracious host.

Audiences will find warmth again in the role of Becca and Izzy’s mother, Nat (Amy Jo Shapiro). Nat mitigates the family’s mirth and sadness with matronly wisdom. In an emotional scene, she manages to invoke a memory of Danny that involves the whole family and doesn’t inspire pain. Deftly, and with great animation, she tells the story of how Danny once ate chocolates from a gift basket given to her by Howie and Becca. The mood rises with laughter as Nat reveals that the chocolates were, in fact, chocolate-covered espresso beans, causing Danny to “get really wild, run around in circles and climb up the walls.” Afterward, Becca asks her mother candidly, “Mom, does it ever go away….this feeling?”

“At some point it does become bearable and you can carry it around like a brick in your pocket…” Nat answers. “It’s not that you like it, but it’s what you have instead of your son.”

Burdens weigh on each character in a way that fosters myopic dramatic tension. Although the full cast is often on stage together, audiences will sense a void between these characters that prevents them from expressing their feelings in a meaningful way or mourning their loss together. Each holds their own brick, clutching desperately to his or her feelings of guilt and remorse. Howie pines for his son and perhaps another chance at fatherhood, never directly communicating his desires. Aware of her father’s emotional paralysis, Becca works alone to remove small parts of Danny from the home. These passive aggressive efforts to cope on an individual basis eventually culminate in a confrontation. For example, Howie is livid when he discovers that Becca accidentally taped over his only recent video of Danny. Powerful ironies immerse the audience. Becca’s negligence has seemingly taken memories of Danny from her parents, yet her actions were not without reason. Had the family members consulted each other directly, however, they could have avoided tumult.

Nat, Becca, and Howie stretch out looking for the next step in their lives and a way to live with the death of Danny. Making preparations for Izzy’s baby employs Nat in the positive role of expecting grandmother. Howie, however, remains lonely. He is hurting and becomes so estranged that audiences will fear his potential to wander outside of his marriage in search of comfort. Becca is also an aloof mystery. When she enrolls in classes at a nearby school, she also begins casually stalking her neighbors. As her character descends further into crisis, she acts either the jealous mute or an angry spirit torn between mercy and justice. By the time Jason appears, tensions are at a peak, and Becca has already resorted to the same physical violence she scolds her sister for at the beginning of the play. Jason’s introduction adds yet another dimension, allowing Becca to become more accessible as an emotional being. His nervousness and candor during their interaction relieves tension.

Rabbit Hole is a compelling experience. Eric C Stein’s direction, the lush set, and powerful acting by the able and convincing cast, convey a heartbreaking reality. Closure and complete understanding are all too often elusive desires, but the family’s efforts to cherish memories and restart their dialogue, breathes tremendous life into the tragic story of young boy’s death.


Post Photos courtesy of: Rachel Verhaaren