By Manning Harris
Stage Door Players’ production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” directed by Dina Shadwell, will run through Dec. 7.
A woman and her husband, Becca and Howie (Mary Saville and Matthew Myers), are dealing with the death of their four-year-old son, Danny, who was struck and killed by a car eight months ago.
Grief is not convenient, courteous, or accommodating; and it can make everyone close to those grieving feel obtrusive and uncomfortable.
Becca seems affected the most and has imploded much of her pain, but Howie tries to get through: “Tell me about it if it’s something human. Let me into your grief.” This is not Howie speaking, but a line from Robert Frost’s poem “Home Burial,” which happens to be about a couple experiencing a similar tragedy.
Becca’s sister Izzy (Cara Mantella) and mother (Patricia French), two quirky women full of life and wit, also do their best to comfort and be there for Becca.
You may think that wit hardly seems appropriate here; on the contrary, it is their wit and humanity that make the piece playable, and the playwright understands that perfectly.
If you’ve ever sat around the bedside of someone about to leave this world, you know that wit or irony can save the day, as it were. And the source of this wit is, surprisingly, often the person leaving.
All this is not to say that “Rabbit Hole” is a comedy; it most certainly is not. But it is an opportunity for empathy, that most wonderful of human attributes, to reveal itself—not only for the actors, but also the audience.
There is a fifth character: Jason (Chase Alford), the 17-year-old boy who was driving the car that struck Danny. There’s a moment in the play when we see Jason, who has certainly suffered himself, reading a letter to Becca, who’s sitting alone on Danny’s bed. It is very moving, but we should be able to see Becca’s reaction; but we can’t because she’s so poorly lit you can’t see the expressions on her face. I hope this situation is corrected.
This play must have fine actors, capable of great subtlety and nuance. Cara Mantella and Patricia French, are experienced, talented professionals; in their hands Izzy and Nat (the mother) are brought fully to life. Ms. Saville and Mr. Myers are very powerful in the confrontation that closes Act I; also in the heartbreaking moment when Howie discovers that Becca has inadvertently destroyed a keepsake showing their late son on tape.
But Ms. Saville’s mask of implosion comes dangerously close to blankness at times; it’s quite a tightrope she must walk: showing emotion by not showing emotion. TV’s Cynthia Nixon won a Tony playing this role on Broadway in 2006. I couldn’t help wondering how Stage Door’s version would play if Mantella and Saville switched roles. Idle speculation, of course—who knows?
By the way, Mr. Alfred is quite touching as young Jason; it’s his character who reminds the audience that no one person is to “blame” here, that life is full of unexplained ambiguities.
“Rabbit Hole” is not an easy play to watch; however, as Director Shadwell points out, it invites an audience’s compassion, and that’s a sorely needed quality at any time of the year.
For tickets and information, visit stagedoorplayers.net.