Go down the ‘Rabbit Hole’ with Giving Tree Theater

Rabbit Hole

Giving Tree Theater — through Nov. 13

The cast of 'Rabbit Hole' -- photo courtesy of Giving Tree Theater
The cast of ‘Rabbit Hole’ — photo courtesy of Giving Tree Theater

I hadn’t planned to write this review. I worried any critique I could level at this production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole would come across as base jealousy, since I auditioned and wasn’t cast. Then, last week, I was invited to attend preview night, and I saw the show.

It should be noted, before I go on, that I have both seen and acted in this show before — so, I know this play fairly well. I love the material and am fiercely protective of it. And I think that, given the subject matter, this is an extremely difficult play to do well.

Giving Tree Theater in Marion absolutely nails it.

Superbly cast, and delivered simply, elegantly, and honestly, this show cuts in moments you wouldn’t imagine, and has you laughing even when the words suggest such powerful grief you feel wicked for forgetting to weep.

Rachel Howell plays an earnest and magnificently sympathetic Becca, a woman who is fighting tooth and nail to come to terms with the death of her toddler after he is hit by a car. Her husband, Howie — the ever-freaking-brilliant Matthew James — is struggling with his own grief in a different way. As with many parents who’ve lost a child, the dissonance is driving them apart when they both so clearly want to go through it together. Added to the mix is Izzy, Becca’s younger sister, a mess of a millennial (delivered deftly by Lauren Galliart) who has just discovered she is pregnant.

Rachel Howell (left) and Matthew James as Becca and Howie. -- photo courtesy of Giving Tree Theater
Rachel Howell (left) and Matthew James as Becca and Howie. — photo courtesy of Giving Tree Theater

I won’t spoil more of the plot for you, but suffice it to say, it’s not light material. Oddly, while you will shed a tear (or 20), it’s not a sad play either. Lindsay-Abaire, in his script notes, makes sure to demand that any company performing this piece lean into the humor. The idea is that they must find something more interesting than manufactured grief to play to, so that raw emotion finds them in unexpected moments and the characters do not simply wallow in it.

This is a challenge for any actor: to find the funny in so sad a situation. Under Heather Harris Akers’ direction, however, not one person fails in that mission. Every single character — from the women’s free-spirited and frustrating (albeit well-intentioned) mother Nat (Michele Hinz) to the teenage boy who ran over Becca’s son (Justin Heinz), who comes back looking for forgiveness — is powerfully real, undeniably funny and utterly decimated by the senseless tragedy they’ve all been through.

This wrenching through line is muddied by the thudding, relentless fact that life goes on: a universally terrible fact that is as timeless as it is relatable. This particular performance highlights the uncertainty and awful beauty of trying to find a way to move on with the people you love when what love remains feels desperately inadequate. It is a powerful, cathartic spectacle of realism that will leave you aching, while simultaneously lifting you up.

Technically rated R for an F-bomb, Rabbit Hole is a great show to see with your loved ones or anyone who loves great modern theatre. Tickets are on sale now. The show runs this Friday, Nov. 11 and Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 13 at 2 p.m.

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