Florida Studio Theatre’s current production examines grief and loss without flinching.
By Kay Kipling
For playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, The Rabbit Hole was a departure in style from earlier works (absurdist comedies including Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo among them). It’s a close-up, intimate portrait of a family dealing with grief, presented in realistic style, and the change of voice won him a Pulitzer.
Under the microscope here are the uptight Becca (Jenny Mercein), her seemingly easygoing husband, Howie (Gregory Northrop), her irrepressible sister, Izzy (Ashley West), their mother, Nat (Darrie Lawrence), and, eventually, a teenage boy who plays a crucial part in their human drama (Drew Foster). The catalyst for their emotional upheaval: the death months earlier of Becca and Howie’s young son in an accident that haunts them all.
Darrie Lawrence, Gregory Northrop and Jenny Mercein in FST's The Rabbit Hole.
Becca’s way of dealing with the pain means forging ahead ruthlessly with getting rid of her son’s baby things and even considering selling the house where they lived, while Howie finds solace in occasional sneak peeks at the last videotape featuring him and his little boy together. Nat relates this tragic death to the previous one of her grown-up son, Becca and Izzy’s brother, and Izzy tries to focus on her own unexpected pregnancy, which she sees as a constant reminder to Becca of her own loss. That they all grieve in their own ways, at different paces, means they often come up sharply against each other, and the question here is: Will they eventually heal, or will they break?
Lindsay-Abaire is direct and unflinching in handling the details of death’s aftermath, and anyone who can watch The Rabbit Hole without shedding a tear would have to be a pretty hard case. But as the play’s title suggests, it can be possible to come out the other end of a journey like this one; while knowing the hurt will never go away, memories and love are here to stay as well. And in the case of Becca, the visit of that young teen—who has his own reasons for wanting to talk to her about her dead son—is a necessary step toward facing the future.
The cast of FST’s production is well chosen; Northrop and Lawrence especially are good at conveying just how much it hurts when Becca lashes out at them. Becca’s is probably the hardest role to play, and sometimes Mercein may overdo her rigid stance a little. One could also wish that some of the dialogue, especially at the outset, was not quite so rapid-fire.
But The Rabbit Hole touches all the right chords in the composition of grief so familiar and yet so strange to us all. It continues on FST’s mainstage through Aug. 26; for tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheater.org.