Saturday, November 03, 2007

Play Rabbit Hole: No Easy Answers

(reflections on RABBIT HOLE by David Lindsay-Abaire, produced by Theatre in the Square, Marietta, GA, directed by Susan Reid)

Before the play RABBIT HOLE begins, the audience at Theatre in the Square in Marietta, GA, can admire a perfect recreation of a handsome contemporary living room and kitchen, the fourth wall cut away. Once the play begins, we see maternal Becca (Antonia Fairchild), her punk sister Izzy (Kate Donadio), her affable husband Howie (Charles Horton), her ebullient mother Nat (Marianne Fraulo). For the duration of the play, they talk intelligently and naturally about the kid sister's latest boy friend, and about work, the gym, grocery shopping, real estate marketing, the dog, the Kennedys, sex, birthday gifts, and recipes. No matter where they turn for conversation, each one turns to "it" -- the couple's grief over the loss of their five year old boy Danny. By the end of Act One, this maze of conversational dead ends has the audience feeling trapped on that handsome set with the characters. When Howie tells Becca, "Something's got to change," we're there, too.

The change we hope for may come via Jason Willett, the teenager whose car struck the boy. In a letter, he asks to be allowed to meet with the parents. He says that he didn't know Danny, but the obituary mentioned Danny's toy robots, and Jason is into science fiction. Is the playwright positioning the older boy to be somehow adopted by the couple? As played by actor Matthew Judd, we hope so: he's an appealing kid, well-spoken, a little awkward, honest and earnest. We guess that he will show up at the house in Act Two, there'll be cathartic recriminations and tearful forgiveness, and in some way, he will become a part of their family. We're wise to all of this: we saw it in movies about psychotherapy (from SPELLBOUND to ORDINARY PEOPLE and beyond) and we see it enacted daily on talk shows. We know the language: "We've got to talk about this . . . It's never going to be the way it was . . . I'm in a different place from you . . . No one is to blame. . . You should talk to someone."

But these characters are too aware of popular psychology, as we are, to accept any such easy answers. That's how it is that the characters articulate their feelings clearly and honestly, yet still can't communicate. Every attempt to reach out is thwarted by their second-guessing ulterior motives. For example, when the husband gets amorous, the wife accuses him of wanting to conceive a child to replace Danny. In that scene, and nearly every scene that follows, someone protests, "That's not what I'm saying... that's not what this is about."

Usually, I find some technical aspect of the script to hold on to when the emotions are getting to me. (See my blog entry last month about THE YELLOW BOAT, another play concerning the death of a child). Here it wasn't until late in the second act that the playwright knocks a little hole to let in light from the world beyond those "four walls." It's the teenager's sci-fi story concerning a son's search for his late father through eponymous "rabbit holes" to alternate dimensions. Becca immediately draws a parallel to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, how Orpheus can't accept the death of his loved one, and he goes to the Underworld to bring her back, but, Becca says simply, "It doesn't work out."

That idea of infinite potential endings seems to me to be a key to the playwright's method in this play, as each scene is built around one or two alternate solutions to the problem of their grief, none of which quite pan out.

The characters all mean well, and they all speak well, and we like them. We laugh at their foibles and, sometimes, at their lame attempts to cover up social discomfort. We hear reflections on loss and grief that strike us as true (such as, it never goes away, but you learn to cherish it as your last link to the loved one). By the time the end of the play had arrived, I was hoping it wasn't over -- still hoping for a final resolution. What we get is less than final, but more real, and more satisfactory.

1 comment:

W. Scott Smoot said...

I'm tearing up reading this, seven years after seeing it, barely recalling any specifics. Powerful!