"No parent should have to bury their child." It's a thought that puts dread in the heart of any mother or father, so watching a play about the topic might not be your first thought for an enjoyable way to spend an evening out. But don't let that stop you from seeing Wilmington Drama League's production of Rabbit Hole. Yes, it's a story of death and despair. But it's also a story of life, family, and even hope, featuring a cast that truly makes you feel their struggles.
The entirety of Rabbit Hole takes place in the home of Becca and Howie, a young married couple who recently lost their 4-year-old son, Danny, in a freak accident. The play starts several months after the accident, and while Becca and Howie are doing their best to move on with their lives, there are constant reminders of their loss in their everyday lives - a toy under the couch; a room that hasn't been touched since Danny died; the surprise pregnancy of Becca's sister, Izzy. And each of these reminders brings the main characters back through some of the five stages of grief. Isolation that no one else can understand what they're dealing with. Anger - at themselves, at each other, at God. Bargaining - "If only I hadn't..." Depression. And, occasionally, some level of acceptance.
Again, I acknowledge this may sound bleak. But David Lindsay-Abaire's script works in plenty of humorous and touching moments as well. Add to that Jeff Robleto's smooth direction and the skills of his talented cast, and the result feels exceedingly natural. Conversations that ebb and flow. Emotions that run the gamut. Movements that never feel staged or forced.
Michelle Stradley and Shawn Kline are responsible for bringing Becca and Howie to life. Their on-stage relationship feels forced, but that's just as it should. They're not just learning how to cope with their own loss; they're learning how to cope with each other's as well. There's a fine balancing act going on here - love versus selfishness, the desire to wallow versus the need to move on - and Stradley and Kline do an impressive job of making you feel the depths of their despair and their hopes for future happiness together.
Frequent visitors to Becca and Howie's house include Becca's mother, Nat (Barbara Scanlon) and sister, Izzy (Francesca Vavala), who provide many of the more humorous and touching moments. Which isn't to say that they never get serious. The relationship between Becca and Nat is frequently strained, and Izzy has had her own personal demons to work through. They both struggle with how to deal with Becca and Howie in light of Danny's death. But Vavala's self-confidence and sarcasm shine as the party-girl younger sister slowly finding her own way, and Scanlon brings a loving, well-meaning tenderness to what could be a typical overbearing mother figure. Kudos also to David Mandarino who plays Jason, a teenager whose life gets forever changed by and intertwined with Becca and Howie's. Mandarino's heart-felt innocence makes it easy to see why Jason desires - even requires - some level of acceptance from the mourning parents.
Robleto and set designer Don Whiteley did an impressive job turning the WDL stage into a two-story home featuring a working kitchen, a cozy living room, and Danny's room "upstairs" on a platform. The cast makes good use of the space, although be prepared to listen carefully to the scene in Danny's room. It's one of the show's more touching moments, but between the quieter dialog and the greater distance between you and the actors, some of the dialog gets lost. A microphone for this scene would have greatly enhanced its effectiveness.
Rabbit Hole may cover a difficult subject, but it's well worth your time. Performances at the Wilmington Drama League continue through April 6th. Be prepared - the show contains adult language. For more information and ticket, visit http://www.wilmingtondramaleague.org
Posted at 12:06pm on March 29, 2014 by Jason Thomas
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