note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
Becca … Donna Bullock
Izzy … Geneva Carr
Howie … Jordan Lage
Nat … Maureen Anderman
Jason … Troy Deutsch
Depending upon your age, if you ask your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents about Death, they will tell you how it was once a fact of family life: how generations of relatives died in or near their homes or how their playmates were claimed by scarlet fever or polio or how they dutifully attended funerals --- go back even further, and you will read of Victorians having Sunday picnics in cemeteries; today, people are living longer, looking younger (naturally or unnaturally) and cheating the Reaper with drugs and operations --- we have thus grown away from Death even though it will still claim us, all, and David Lindsay-Abaire’s RABBIT HOLE, now at the Huntington, is for those who prefer being coaxed in the same way that Norman Lear’s sitcoms tackled serious topics: laugh, first; listen, second.
Mr. Lindsay-Abaire is known for such Absurdist fare as FUDDY MEARS and WONDER OF THE WORLD and RABBIT HOLE is likewise seasoned for chunks at a time; unfortunately, its safe, quirky humor dilutes Death’s granite force: Becca and Howie, a married couple, have been coping with the loss of their four-year-old son, hit by a car while running after the family dog. Becca is first seen folding clothes at her kitchen table while her sister Izzy prattles about her entangled life, finally announcing her pregnancy. Her chuckling listeners may not realize that Becca is packing her late son’s clothes for charity and that Izzy’s conception should cause more than wan goodwill from her now-childless sister. Later, Mr. Lindsay-Abaire adds their mother Nat who tipsily skewers the Kennedy Curse before revealing that she, too, had lost a son (the formula seems to be the more serious the topic, the more relentless the tickling). Howie wants to get on with his life, at least sexually, while Becca remains as closed as a tomb; Mr. Lindsay-Abaire reverses their positions with Becca packing away mementos and wanting to sell their Larchmont home which Howie, in turn, declares to be pure-and-simple erasure; he becomes the one now clinging to the past. (Still later, Izzy accuses Howie of infidelity which he denies and which, sadly, in a dramatic sense, is dropped). Jason, the teenager at the fatal wheel, stops by with his theory about “rabbit holes” that lead to parallels of everyone’s lives in other galaxies (thus, Becca is comforted to know that there is a happier She somewhere out in space). RABBIT HOLE is television-as-theatre and on the night I attended the Huntington audience laughed and muted as if cue cards were flashed at them; my own buttons remained unpushed.
Two decades ago, John Tillinger reduced a Broadway revival of Joe Orton’s LOOT to twinkling cuteness and his RABBIT HOLE is more of the same, stapling rather than stitching the comedy to its tragedy; a more sensitive, “flawed” approach would blended, better. No doubt, Donna Bullock’s Becca will be hailed as a tour-de-force; I found Ms. Bullock to be so hard and strident that I wondered what sort of parent her Becca had once been, and if the thought of Matt Lauer as an actor appeals to you, then Jordan Lage’s Howie is the husband of your dreams. Geneva Carr’s Izzy is a throwback to the kooks of the 1960s (for example, she cannot tell an Irish accent from a German one); Maureen Anderman’s Nat grows more compelling once she gets past her drunken introduction. Troy Deutsch is far too old to play Jason and his gawky mannerisms result in a staring, crabbed presence from which one would shrink in real life --- small wonder why the offstage dog barks so much.
James Noone has designed large, impressive interiors that slide back and forth across the full length of the stage and distanced me even further --- that home is so neat, clean and opulent (judging by the son’s bedroom, he was quite the little prince) that RABBIT HOLE soon luxuriated in the same WASP-grief as did the film ORDINARY PEOPLE though chances are you will probably see Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s play on the small screen before you see it on the big one.