Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire
NTC July 12–26 2014
A review by Debra Hely
A minimalistic but evocative set welcomed the audience. As I sat there absorbing the atmosphere, I must confess to some trepidation as to how the subject matter would be handled, even in the hands of the wonderful Kathleen Warren. In no time at all, any concerns were totally allayed as an ensemble cast presented performances in keeping with the set. With seemingly little effort, they took our emotions on an enthralling adventure, often sad, but with enough humour to steady us.
The lights came up to reveal a woman, Becca (Amanda Woolford) folding a small child’s clothes into a laundry basket. A natural act, yet Becca was slightly hesitant – was it because she was listening to the other younger woman? Izzy (Emily Ralph) was rambling on and on about the pub and an incident with a total stranger who became aggressive. Slowly it transpired that Izzy was not only “the other woman” as far as the stranger was concerned, she was also pregnant.
Becca’s reaction set the quality for the rest of the play. She was pleased but again, somewhat hesitant. Before long the audience knew that she and her husband, Howie (Drew Pittman) had lost their only son, Danny, and the clothes she was folding were his, being prepared to give to charity. By the time Howie came home, and tensions were mounting, Danny, (voiced by Georgia Pittman) had chased his beloved dog onto the road (through a gate accidentally left open) and was hit and killed by a car.
It wasn’t too long until Becca’s mother, Nat (Sue McEwen) joined the family, constantly comparing the loss of Danny to her own son. Becca has no time for her brother’s life story – he was a drug addict, and a loser and old enough to know better, unlike her own innocent son. Tension kept building, the family kept trying to avoid serious conversations by talking about everyday things, but the everyday quickly became metaphoric. The unspoken was booming with clarity.
There were poignant moments: as when mother and daughter found common ground in Danny’s bedroom; when Howie watched a family video; the discovery that the dog had been banished to Nat’s care; how Emily deeply loved her sister but managed to keep saying the wrong thing at the wrong time; and Jason’s short story as well as his letter of apology.
Jason, (Heathcliff Stubley) was the young driver who in swerving to miss the dog hit Danny. His guilt of being over the speed limit of 50, doing maybe 51 or 52, kept eating at him. Still at school, he wrote a story he dedicated to Danny, after seeking permission via a letter to Becca. When Becca read the story aloud, we understood the title of the play.
This play could have been a drawn out disaster dwelling in pathos; instead it was a powerful and moving drama, full of beautiful nuanced writing equally matched by the performances. Being in the audience was a bit like being a voyeur, it felt so real, and had us leaning forward more and more (when we weren’t discretely wiping our moist eyes). Fortunately there were many moments of humour, which allowed us to breathe again, not realising until then how rapt we were, or that maybe we were holding our breaths.
It was obvious Becca and Howie still loved each other, but each had a journey of grief that excluded the other. The play took place at a time where they were either going to split apart forever, or find their way together. And the audience truly cared, as evidenced by the gasps, tears, silences and body language.
Kudos to each cast member for bringing depth and life to each character. Amanda’s poise, hesitation and hurt were nicely balanced by Drew’s portrayal of Howie’s growing frustration and anger. When the very scared but determined Jason arrives, the body language of the cast was perfect. Heathcliff captured that awkward time in teenage life, caught between childhood and adulthood and clearly feeling the weight of Danny’s death upon him.
Emily brought the right amount of energy into her role, moving through clownish moments to equally serious ones. Sue, who battled laryngitis, kept the reins in on what could have been an over-the-top character, instead she revealed a woman of depth deserving of our sympathies.
Kathleen Warren obviously deserves the praise I’ve given the actors too, as she was the Director and fine-tuned their performances. No doubt having the delightful Lynda Rennie on board as Assistant Director only added to the mix, likewise all the designers involved in the production. Everything pulled together, nothing jarred: no inappropriate sound / music and no shadowy faces, all lit and easy to see.
Congratulations Kathleen and the cast and crew for the artistry you gave us. It made me very proud to be a member of a theatre company that can produce work like this.