The Rabbit Hole / Ghent Playhouse
“THE RABBIT HOLE”? That title might lead you to expect an elaborate fantasy or at least a generous helping of whimsy. Instead you get intense, relentless, earthbound realism, chock-full of pain and funny life-stuff.
An upper middle-class couple is struggling to recover from the accidental death of their four-year-old son, Danny.
Months after the universe has coldly dropped this horror on them, they writhe and shout or stand helpless in stunned catatonia. Everything in their Larchmont house is a Danny artifact. With conflicting impulses to purge or faithfully preserve, they rub each other raw.
At Ghent, the opening speech of the play is delivered by Hana Kenny at irritating speed. (Is the character on it?) Fortunately Kenny quickly eases into character, creating one of those familiar moderns who suffer charmingly from a dearth of boundaries. She’s an unmarried, pregnant, substance-abusing young woman who is cheerfully relating how she has just mug-punched a woman–in public.
By contrast, Danny’s mother, Becca, is immediately framed as an intelligent, profoundly grounded woman, in spite of her present unbalance and anguish. In this play, Becca rules. She is played by an intelligent, profoundly grounded actress named Tamara Gardner. Gardner is so easefully real that it is difficult to believe her bio, which says she is new to this acting business. She credits director John Trainor, who is fine in the director’s chair. (But if ever you get a chance to see him on stage, go immediately and buy a ticket.)
As Becca’s manfully suffering husband, Howie, Jonathan Slocum is good. The actor and the character are good. The latter hurts, and without ever approaching maudlin, he surrenders to grief, fights it, and tries to comfort Becca.
When you add Lael Locke as Becca’s quirky-wise and frank mother, Nat, you know you’ve struck it rich in Playhouse casting. Locke’s Nat is one of those relatives who speaks truth to families, which we all know is much more dangerous than doing it to power. Nat gets verbally shot down when she tries to comfort the parents with god-talk, a goof that is neatly AK-47’d by her grieving daughter. Nat always wins with the audience, however. Her common sense riff on “the stupid rich” is priceless.
The “Rabbit Hole” set looks assembled rather than designed; but its pale blue walls and dots of red around the furnishings has the effect of making the Playhouse stage look surprisingly spacious–if not very up-scale-Larchmont where the house is supposed to be.
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has crafted Act I brilliantly. Act II gets as flabby as a Tom Brady football, causing one to think fondly of other dead- or absent-children dramas such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Buried Child.” The concept of rabbit holes leading to other universes, even metaphorically, seems very ill at ease in this play. Theoretically the idea could work, but somehow….
Still, “Rabbit Hole” has won awards, aided probably by wonderful Beccas: Cynthia Nixon on Broadway and Nicole Kidman in the film. (Tyne Daly or Diane Wiest supporting doesn’t sabotage anything either.)
On Ghent’s opening night, at starting time, there was the sound of a siren followed by silence and darkness. The audience sat still and breathless for several lovely minutes. Then the technical problem was solved and the play moved on. Why were the silent, dark moments lovely? Don’t know. But I liked them. There is a lesson there somewhere.
It is important that this play forces an uncaring universe to the foreground where it belongs. It reminds us to take on the enemies of humanity–accidental, natural, man-made–with the only resources we have: love, reason and humor.
See “The Rabbit Hole” through June 7. Tickets at 518 392-6264 or online: ghentplayhouse.org.