We never see the tragic event at the heart of this story. But as much as David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole is about senseless loss, it reveals how coping with loss' bewildering emptiness brings us together.
Audiences experience that bond firsthand in the Adobe Theater's production of Rabbit Hole, which opens with a confession. We find mom Becca (Taunya Crilly) folding laundry as her 30-going-on-21 sister, Izzy (Aleah Waldron), regales her with the details of a bar fight. Izzy's working up the nerve to tell her sister that she's pregnant. It's an unplanned event with unfortunate timing—Becca's 4-year-old son, Danny, died eight months earlier. Becca is dealing with the loss of her son, while her husband, Howie (Zane Barker), has a totally different approach. The stress is bearing down on their marriage, which seems ready to snap. Izzy and her mother, Nat (Linda Williams), do all they can to help the mourning couple, but ultimately only Becca and Howie can save themselves and their relationship.
Rabbit Hole is a superbly written play. (So superb, in fact, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007.) Each character is a well-defined individual—like a neighbor or sister or close friend. The emotional journey of the family is the centerpiece of the play, and the cast, under the careful direction of Leslee Richards, latches onto the realness of these people and keeps them grounded in their struggle. This is no "Days of Our Lives" drama—this is the stuff of parents’ nightmares, and a situation that could easily become a reality.
By keeping the dramatics subtly tied to the character's emotions—and not in grand gesticulations or tantrums—theatergoers are invited to share in the experiences rather than merely observe them. This is artfully demonstrated in the scenes between Becca and Howie. As Becca, Crilly keeps her grief bottled up just enough, letting it out during her weak moments in the most heartbreaking of ways. The dark cloud hanging over her head clashes with the luminous beams Barker shines through Howie; it's a sign the couple might not make it through this brutal test. But Barker doesn't play Howie as emotionally bulletproof—his natural sense of timing gives Howie a cautious, caring personality that makes his lowest moments even more empathetic for the audience. Crilly and Barker have a delicate chemistry on stage—even more reason to root for the salvation of their characters’ relationship.
As Izzy, Waldron is equal parts rebellious teen wannabe and closet adult. Izzy channels her youthful exuberance into kind advice, a crucible for establishing herself as a responsible soon-to-be mother. She is the younger, less happy homemaker of the two sisters, but she isn’t a brat. Same with Williams. As Becca's mother, she pushes her daughter’s tolerance threshold but backs off just before starting an emotional landslide.
The cast skillfully maneuvers the interpersonal connection and disconnection within the script, which is character-driven with very little situational influence—except for the unexpected visit of Jason (Daniel Hart), the teenaged driver responsible for Danny's death. Hart embodies the awkwardness and shame someone in his position would feel, but his delivery is rushed and mumbly (though it’s never enough to distract from the story). As he loosens up, his performance improves.
The only major complications with this production are environmental. The newly remodeled Adobe Theater houses beautiful seats and a large thrust stage (which set designer Barbara Bock did a superb job building out as a two-story home). As with past Adobe performances, the thrust stage proves to be a challenge as actors are often turning their backs to the audience or blocking the view of another performer. A loud air conditioning unit and concessions refrigerator made it hard to hear every line. Both these problems can be addressed by sitting in the first few rows of the middle section—and neither are a good enough reason to miss this well-produced show.
What anchored this performance of Rabbit Hole as true human experience was the aftershock felt following the final scene. After the curtain call and the enthusiastic applause fell away, people rose from their seats with tissues in hand and tearstained faces. We didn't just observe Becca and Howie's pain; we were part of it. You won't get that at Century Rio 24.
The Adobe Theater (9813 Fourth Street NW) presents Rabbit Hole , a play by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Leslee Richards, every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Sept. 7. Tickets are $12 general and $10 students/seniors. For info and reservations, call 898-9222.