Thursday, February 6, 2014
Theater review: Go down the Rabbit Hole in thought-provoking play
The design really helps tell the story.
SHERMAN Rabbit Hole is a decidedly heavy play. Centering around the ways in which families confront and survive major loss, the story depicts the struggles of Becca and Howie, a typical suburban couple who recently lost their 4-year-old son, Danny, when he inadvertently followed his dog into the middle of the street. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, it was first presented at the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading series in 2005 and won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Molly Bower plays Becca with alternating frenzy and resignation. Bower constantly seems searching, whether with voice, hands or eyes. One gets the impression that everything is in the air for her character; she can't move forward, she can't go back, and she can't remain as she is in the present. This is emphasized by the ever-shifting moods that Bower evinces when rapidly moving from tearful pleading to angry remonstration to disconnected industry. The point is further driven home when Becca tearfully explains to Howie that she gave up her career to become a mother, is no longer a mother, but doesn't want to go back to what she was before becoming a mother, yet isn't ready to become a mother again. Becca is in flux, lost, waiting for an endless pain to end, and Bower plays this effortlessly.
Opposite Bower is Shane Beeson as Becca's husband, Howie. Howie and Becca are best when playing off one another, as Howie's intensity and grim determination to move, move, move on at all cost provide a foil to Becca's unwillingness to do so. Beeson's Howie is strong and professes to be patient and rational, but is more demanding and angry than calculating. Beeson's quick remonstrance of Becca and sarcastic quips underscore his character's deep unhappiness. Further, Beeson's fitful movements give the impression of a man who is almost incapable of remaining in his own skin and who is so inwardly focused on regaining normalcy that he doesn't realize how abnormal his behavior actually is.
Rounding out the cast are Becca's sister, Izzy, Becca's mother, Nat, and Jason, the teenage driver who accidentally hit Danny with his car.
As Izzy, Megan McCullough is very satisfying. Admittedly, in the first scene, her timing seems slightly off, with the result being she seems more to be reciting to herself than engaging in a dialogue with Becca, but this doesn't last long and is easily forgiven by the subtleties of her performance. McCullough owns every scene she is in and is constantly adding to her character. You can steal a glance at her at any moment and gain insight as to what her character is thinking, even when other characters are the primary focus of the scene. When Becca and Howie are arguing, McCullough is stooped over the kitchen counter glumly picking at her food, adding to the mood of the scene, but doing it so subtly that the spotlight is never wrested from where it belongs. In short, she is the quintessential supporting actress.
Rebecca Smith is wonderful as Nat, the mother of Becca and Izzy who has gone through her own loss, that of her drug-addicted adult son, Arthur. Smith's delivery is superb, and she expertly portrays the well-meaning mother who is often misunderstood. Smith's comic timing is excellent, and she shifts smoothly from bright tones when attempting to soothe tensions within the family, haltingly tentative and carefully-considered phrases when she is trying to empathize with her daughter's pain, and deeper modulations when dejected at being either misunderstood or incapable of helping. There is not a hint of artifice about her; when watching her perform, one could forget they are at a play at all.
Morgan Henard plays Jason, the well-meaning, guilt-ridden young man who is trying to connect with the family of the child he accidentally took from them. While it is sometimes visually difficult to see Henard as a teenager, he succeeds in capturing the artlessness of the age through his hesitant actions and intentionally awkward timing. In particular, Henard is excellent when flippantly answering Becca's questions about his short story, betraying a subconscious depth behind his thoughtless responses. At this moment, he is particularly convincing as a teenager who is not yet fully in touch with himself.
While technically this completes the cast of Rabbit Hole, I would argue that there is actually one more member of the cast, that of Danny himself. I would further argue that this absent character is embodied in the set. Rabbit Hole is located entirely in the home of Becca and Howie, and the set is representative of a typical upper middle class suburban house. The interior is the picture of function and comfort, with stainless steel appliances, an overstuffed sofa, and small touches throughout that bespeak suburban casual. There is something a touch clinical about it, however, which is soon explained. And over all of this hovers the specter of Danny's bedroom, walls painted a heavenly blue in contrast to the earthy brown of the remainder of the house. Decorated in his own distinctive style, Danny's bedroom is the epitome of interrupted life; it almost seems to breathe on its own, awaiting the return of its tiny inhabitant. Further, Danny's room is located on stage such that it is ever-present in the background of each scene and slowly becomes as much a part of the audience's mental scenery as Danny himself is a part of his parents' thoughts. The sight of the bedroom is alternately comforting and shiver-inducing, much as the thought of Danny must be to his parents.
Costuming is similarly inspired, each character clothed to fit both function and personality. Becca's jeans and stylish yet functional tops are the casual chic, mom uniform which she continues to wear even now that her role of mom has been interrupted. Similarly, Howie's khakis, button-downs, and preppy long-sleeved tees seem straight out of a Land's End catalog. Club kid turned expectant mother Izzy starts out in tight jeans, tanks, trendy jackets, and massive (and somewhat distracting) hoop earrings and ends up in still fashionable, but less swank maternity garb. Nat is clothed in clean lines and the carefully-placed bling that heralds the Southern belle, and Jason is high school casual in straight-leg jeans and plain T-shirts.
Lighting is well-designed, dimming when Howie watches videos of Danny and strengthening to direct the focus of scenes where necessary. It does not, however, dim quite quickly enough between scenes and the play seems to drag in areas while the audience waits for the lights to go down.
Scene changes flow rapidly, partly helped by the backdrop of atmospheric German classical music which also serves to reinforce the gravity of the subject matter. Further, the use of 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up?" during curtain call leaves the audience feeling appropriately yet cautiously optimistic that Becca and Howie will eventually find their way out of their confusion and back to one another.
Though a few rough spots exist in Sherman Community Players' production of Rabbit Hole, the scenic design is inspired, the acting is solid, and the overall effect is thought-provoking and profound. I would highly recommend this production if you're looking for theatrical fare that both entertains and stimulates conversation.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column