Death is not meant to be funny, and surely watching people cope with death isn't supposed to be funny either. Right? So why, then, is David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole, about the death of a child and its aftermath, so entertaining? A new production at Studio 300 brings up so many conflicting emotions that it leaves you more than a little rattled at the end.
The theater is also very small -- an ideal size for this play; so only about 30 people can fit in. The experience in such a small space is far superior to larger venues like the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), which is nearby. Like Edward Albee's Zoo Story or Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, the closer you are to what's happening on stage the better.
Since much of the dialog in Rabbit Hole is constructed around arguments and misunderstandings, it is easy to feel like you have a role in the scenes -- but as a silent family member, hoping not to get yelled at. Like real people, the characters argue then appease, make nice and then yell some more. In this way their personalities are revealed -- not through their jobs, their costumes or what they do, but through their feelings.
Dominic Overstreet plays Howie, the father of the child that died. With macho decisiveness, he marches right into murky emotional territory and is so natural at arguing, he seems a little bit mean. His Howie is a man who is not in charge of his household, someone whose life has been dramatically altered by an event beyond his control. He finds too, that he can't ease his wife's sorrow -- and discovers how talking can sometimes make things worse. Lindsay-Abaire seems to be making a point to men here; sometimes women just need to talk things out and they don't need you to solve their problems. Allow them to talk and they can find their way through things. Howie, of course doesn't get this and his frustration strains his relationship and ultimately isolates him.
At one point, Howie's wife, Becca (Sina Eiden), explains the Greek myth of Orpheus. He played music so beautifully, she says, that it brought the dead back to life. However when someone he loved, Eurydice, died, all of his magical powers failed him. Eurydice was lost. In Rabbit Hole, each character knows they cannot bring the child back, so instead they lash out at one another for feeling too much or not feeling enough. It is a tug-of-war game that can never be won. Like Orpheus they all must live with the knowledge that there is nothing they can do.
The production of Rabbit Hole is a synergy between Katarina Fabic and Shari Carlson of Studio 300. Fabic is an actress who has worked in commercials, plays and movies for the past 15 years. Scenes from Rabbit Hole were workshopped at Studio 300, which inspired Fabic to put together a full production of the play. Carlson was asked to direct. Fabic also performs as the Becca's younger, carefree sister Izzy, who provides moments of comic relief with stories of her own misadventures.
Candyce Anderson does what she can with her role as the grandmother. Unfortunately her character doesn't get fully developed. Similarly, Joshua Duthie plays Jason, a minor role as the teenage boy who accidentally killed the child. His character appears mysteriously in the play and functions like the king's ghost in Hamlet, not fully there, but the thought of him sets everyone on edge. In fact the theme of absence and presence is the thread that connects everything in this play. For example, the absence of Becca and Howie's child recalls the nonexistent baby in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? or Clytemnestra's sacrificed daughter Iphigeneia, in Agamemnon. Rabbit Hole is a smart play that shouldn't be missed if you can catch it during its short run.
Rabbit Hole runs through December 1, 2007 at Studio 300. For tickets and information visit BrownPaperTickets.Com.