It was fun. The second and fourth plays rocked. The first could’ve been better, and the third was pretty atrocious. There’s an A&E article from the Mercury News about the second. Enjoy:
Becca and Howie have got it all in “Rabbit Hole.” Posh suburban manse? Check. Financial security? Natch. These folks shop at Whole Foods. They watch the Discovery Channel. They nosh on creme caramel amid gleaming hardwood floors and perfectly fluffed throw pillows. It’s a carefully ordered Martha Stewart life with everything as it should be.
Alas, life has a way of laughing in the face of our best-laid plans. All of that comfort and safety and happiness can vanish in an instant. When the couple loses their son, their palatial upper-middle-class home suddenly becomes a temple of emptiness. Little Danny, 4, chased his dog out into the street and got run over by a car. Now, everywhere Becca looks, all she can see is loss.
In its regional premiere at San Jose Rep, David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2007 Pulitzer winner is the sensitively wrought study of a family plunged into the black hole of grief. Unlike the inspired flights of lunacy for which he is famous (“Fuddy Meers,” “Kimberly Akimbo”), there is little of the playwright’s quirky existentialism here. Becca’s world may be as upside-down as any of his other heroines, but the play that frames her is a naturalistic kitchen-sink drama that follows a fairly conventional path from loss toward the dawn of recovery.
As directed by Kirsten Brandt, this “Rabbit Hole” resists the tendency toward melodrama, the teary catharsis the play can evoke, in favor of subdued resonance. While the S.J. Rep production may not be as emotionally intense as it could be, the company nails the playwright’s eye and ear for modern domestic life. This is how we live now. Becca and Howie are a cautionary tale about the agonizing slowness of mourning in an attention-deficit disorder world.
Stacy Ross’ Becca rejects sympathy. She’s a strong, even astringent, woman lost in her own pain. She sees no reason to keep her chin up to make others feel better. Ross, an actress known for palpable commitment to her roles, captures Becca’s thorny sense of isolation, but she misses some of the pain and vulnerability that would make her journey more moving. Becca builds up high walls with her depression, but it’s hard to care about the character if we don’t get a peek at the tenderness she’s trying to hide.
When Becca and Howie (Andy Murray) fight, we can feel their barely suppressed devastation. They may live in the same house but they just can’t be there for each other right now. But the actors haven’t yet fully fleshed out the characters’ emotional back story. We never get a sense of what their marriage was like before their son died.
There’s also some complexity missing in the sibling rivalry between Type-A Becca and her free-spirited, wild-child of a sister Izzy (Jessa Watson). Watson, clad in kooky, Forever 21-style couture, does add sparkle to the play’s wisecrack banter, its kitschy winks to American pop culture icons (from Jerry Springer to Applebee’s). These pinpricks of irony and wit give the play some refreshing comic relief.
That sense of humor also combats the fact that the play can feel a little flat and schematic at times. But the most potent antidote is gut-wrenching subtlety, the nuanced response to tragedy that Lynne Soffer layers into the character of Nat.
She’s Becca’s earthy, bingo-playing mom and all she wants to do is help. If she does and says all the wrong things (at least according to Becca), Soffer grounds every line in such sharp detail that it’s through her memories we get the best sense of who Danny was.
Paradoxically, the most heartbreaking moments in this production come from the least expected place. James Breedlove imbues Jason, the teenage driver who accidentally killed Danny, with such awkward freshness that he’s like a raw nerve on stage.
His painfully gawky presence underscores the unyielding honesty of the play. These are everyday people struggling through insane circumstances, just like the rest of us, at one time or another. It’s that undeniable sense of shared truth that gives “Rabbit Hole” the power to suck us in.
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Upshot: A family plunges into the black hole of grief in this sensitive domestic drama.
Where: San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through June 10.
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission.
Tickets: $14-$56; (408) 367-7255 or go to www.sjrep.org
I’ll talk about it more in detail later, accompanied by pictures (hopefully)