Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Kudos to Dundas Little Theatre for their production of Rabbit Hole, a Pulitzer prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire. They have taken on a daring emotional challenge, and succeeded. This play, dealing with one of the most poignant and painful griefs – the death of a child – is not an easy subject, but Abaire’s beautifully-crafted script and the skill of the actors and director Lana Borsellino bring the story to life, touching our hearts without sentimentality.
The play shows five characters each dealing with loss and grief in their own way. This causes conflict, but as the story develops, they begin to communicate more openly,
lowering the walls between them and finding more closeness. The script includes touches of humour as well as sorrow, an authentic reflection of life. This is a naturalistic play, and we feel these characters could perhaps be our neighbors.
Nectaria Kordan and Mike Wierenga play Becca and Howard, a suburban couple whose 4-year-old son Danny was killed by a teen-age driver when he chased his dog into the street. The play opens eight months after the accident. Becca and Howard each blame themselves, though they realize the accident had no one “cause.” In addition, each has different needs: Howard wants more intimacy while Becca doesn’t want to be touched; she can’t bear to look at Danny’s paintings, toys, and a video of Danny and his dad in the park, while Howard finds these mementoes comforting. She wants to move; he wants to stay in the house. Kordan and Wierenga play well together; we feel their tension – and their love – through body-language as well as words.
Add to this mix Becca’s sister Izzy, smartly played by Sara Burdulis, wise-cracking, living a free-wheeling life-style, but with a clear eye for people’s emotions. She is also grieving, but “accidentally” becomes pregnant; her happiness about this is hard for Becca. Then there is their talkative mother Nat, played by Gladys Glass, who is dealing with her own past grief. A scene where Becca and Nat sort through Danny’s toys is particularly moving (and shows the importance of well-chosen props).
Finally, we meet Jason, portrayed by Kyle O’Neill, remorseful and awkward, also suffering from the accident. He and Becca eventually connect – a step toward healing. Jason has written a science-fiction story in which “rabbit holes” lead to other possible worlds, other realities. Of course, the title also makes us think of the rabbit-hole in Alice in Wonderland, a story in which Alice’s world is turned upside down and she has to face the chaos, irrationality, and violence of life. O’Neill makes Jason a likeable, believable character (though his voice could be a bit louder).
The late Canadian writer Bronwen Wallace said, “I think we never really get over things; we just learn to carry them more gently,” and this is the message (without being a ‘moral’) at the heart of the play. Nat tells Becca that grief becomes like a brick which you carry, even cherish, in your pocket, rather than feeling crushed by it.
Peter Lloyd’s two-level, naturalistic set of the couple’s home works well; the actors move easily inside the space. I liked the costumes by Jane Snider and Sally Watson, and Peter Frost’s lighting design used subtle changes to create different moods. Becca hasn’t lost her love of baking, and the characters enjoy a series of scrumptious-looking desserts – which tempers the sadness. Liz Boydell’s sound design, including music between the scenes, was generally effective, although one or two of the music choices did not work for me. The voice of Danny is haunting.
I have seen and read this play before, and each time find more depth, courage, and grace. It is a play about life as well as about death, and may help us reflect on our own experiences. Rabbit Hole runs until Nov. 13th; The Garstin Centre for the Arts, 37 Market St. S, Dundas; 905-627-5266.