Reviewed by Gregor Collins
Nuance Theatre Company’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole has its poignant moments—and they were delivered by committed actors who weren’t terrible—but holistically it’s a grief play that expects us to grieve about an event we never get to see, and therefore feel nothing for. So for that reason, it fails.
It’s an uphill battle when a playwright writes a play about a tragic event that happens before the curtain opens, and then expects us to feel as deeply as the actors do about it.
Rabbit Hole won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. No doubt an impressive honor. But doesn’t that just mean the small group of powers-that-be deciding who gets the award every year resonated with it? What about the average theater-goer?
The plot: Becca and Howie (Maggie Alexander and Michael Filisky) have everything a family could want, until an accident claims the life of their little boy. When the play opens, eight months have passed since the accident and the family is still mourning. They end up working through the pain to find their way back to the light.
If that sounds lifeless and depressing from beginning to end, it isn’t entirely—the play offers fits of humor, almost exclusively delivered by Izzy (Rachel Worthington), the sister of the mother of the boy who was killed. Worthington, the strongest of the cast, is a wonderful actor with a gift for unforced levity, but aside from her entrances and exits, the sheer weightiness of the melodrama proves laborious for us. A play about grief is one thing, but when it pounds in the nail and insists on hammering away until the foundation is ruined, what’s left? Well, Rabbit Hole.
It’s not really that we don’t care about this child dying, it’s that we don’t care about them caring about it. Herculean efforts are made to make us care. And sometimes we kind of do. But more often we’re watching actors emoting to themselves, not to us.
I kept thinking there needed to be something to shake it up. Maybe a scene with an altered tone, or a dazzling multimedia display. Something to rub us a completely different way. But nothing changed. So we were never moved. You’d think a dramaturg would have given this note during the writing of the script. Maybe they did, and the playwright ignored it. Then won a Pulitzer. But does that anointment give it automatic immunity?
At least the 30-seat NuBox Theater in Hell’s Kitchen was the perfect venue for it. They wanted us to feel like we were “in the living room” with them. We did. The problem was, it was for a play that expected more than we could give.
Nuance Theatre Co. in association with LungTree Productions presents Rabbit Hole. Performances run June 1 – 23, 2019.