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The Rousuck Review: "Rabbit Hole"

Photography by Rachel Verhaaren

Maryland Morning theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck reviews the Vagabond Players' production of "Rabbit Hole", up until March 29th:

“Rabbit Hole” is a play about how life can blind side you. It’s a play about grief. And it’s a play about the difficulty of finding comfort. When tragedy strikes suddenly and unexpectedly, there’s a natural tendency to look for someone or something to blame – or to feel guilty or responsible, to play the “if only” game.

All of these feelings rise to the surface in David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner. Director Eric C. Stein’s production at the Vagabond Players is sensitive and intense. Each of “Rabbit Hole’s” five characters finds a reason to blame him or herself for the death a four-year-old boy, who was struck and killed by a car.

The boy’s mother, Becca, blames herself for being in the house on the phone, not watching her son playing in the yard, when the accident took place. Becca’s sister, Izzy, blames herself for making the phone call. And on and on.

The sisters have wildly divergent personalities. Becca is high-strung, thin-skinned and brittle; she knows what’s best for everyone, but herself – qualities ZarahRautell captures in her performance. Becca’s pregnant sister Izzy – played with naturalistic flair by Ryan Gunning -- is impulsive to the point of getting in a bar fight with a stranger. There’s friction between these sisters. And there’s friction with their mother – broadly played by Amy Jo Shapiro as a woman who turns out to be less crass and more caring than first impressions suggest.

Becca’s husband is a peacekeeper. He’s desperately trying to keep this family – and especially his marriage – from coming unglued. Don Kammann delivers a keenly felt performance as this man whose method of coping with grief is diametrically opposed to his wife’s. He wants to surround himself with reminders of his son; she wants to clear everything away.

He’s a husband who rarely loses his cool. One exception comes when a teenaged boy -- played by Brendon Morrison -- shows up unannounced. Without giving away too much of the plot, this teenager appears to be the last person Becca and her husband would ever want to see.

This high school senior has written a science-fiction story that features holes -- rabbit holes – that lead to parallel universes with “versions of us leading different lives.” “So this is just the sad version of us?” Becca asks him at one point.

“Rabbit Hole” doesn’t leave you with false hope, and Eric Stein’s direction, wisely, never gives in to sentimentality. But for a play dealing with the messiness of grief, playwright Lindsay-Abaire includes some plot points that are a little too neat.

Even so, the play’s big issues cut right to the nerve. In times of great loss, can one person comfort another? Is comfort even possible? Not surprisingly, an effective production of “Rabbit Hole” is tough to sit through. You won’t leave the Vagabond Players feeling consoled -- nor should you. But you will leave with an increased sense of empathy and understanding.

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years. Her feature coverage for The Sun included a comprehensive series chronicling the development of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray.” Judy got her start at The Cleveland Press and at Cleveland’s fine arts radio station, WCLV. Her broadcasting experience also includes a year as an on-air theater critic for Maryland Public Television.