‘Rabbit Hole’ at The Keegan Theatre by Justin Schneider

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
“You’re not in a better place than me, just a different one.”
An entire play is summed up in that one line, and when Susan Marie Rhea utters it you can feel all the carefully set pieces beginning to fall into place. Rabbit Hole is a tightly woven exploration of grief and forgiveness, and the actors at The Keegan Theatre do a fantastic job of giving the play a life that is touching, heartfelt, and frequently funny.

(left to right)  Susan Marie Rhea and  Mark A. Rhea. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
(left to right) Susan Marie Rhea and Mark A. Rhea. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Winner of a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole follows a family dealing with the grief of losing their young son Danny to a car accident. Becca (Susan Marie Rhea) hasn’t made any progress eight months later, while her husband Howie’s (Mark A. Rhea) outward calm covers a deep anger. Becca’s sister Izzy (Shayna Blass) sees the loss as a wakeup call, and their mother Nat (Linda High) tries to comfort her daughters while dealing with her own losses, past and present. The grieving process is complicated when the family is contacted by Jason (Patrick Joy), the teenaged driver whose car struck and killed Danny.

Director Kerri Rambow has managed one of the most difficult feats in theatre: giving us a family that sounds like a family. It helps that the set, designed by 4Points Design Collective and fleshed out by Carol H. Baker, feels like a real home. A family lives here, with Danny’s empty bedroom literally hanging over their heads as a reminder of the past. Not to minimize the obvious work of the actors, but the action on stage often feels like a family hashing out their issues rather than a set of performers working through a plot. It’s the frustration that does it, making all of the arguments seem like new versions of the same old problems that have always plagued the family dynamic. Linda High stands out for her contributions to the sense that these characters have known each other for years, both by picking at old wounds and by showing that special kind of patience that parents have when they wait for their children to realize that parents have feelings too.

As Becca, Susan Marie Rhea is the anchor that holds the production together. The entirety of the drama plays out in her face, and it can be tempting to watch her reactions rather than whichever character is speaking at the time. While the play is concerned with the ways in which the characters reflect each other – the ways that lives run in parallel, the different reactions to the same event, the differing results when two characters go to the same source for comfort – it is Becca who confronts the others with the fact that people aren’t the same as each other. While it can be frustrating to watch her seem to wallow in her misery, it quickly becomes apparent that she would make the effort to fix things if she only knew how. It would be easy for the part to be played as melodramatic or maudlin, but Rhea’s clear frustration at all the well-meaning but useless advice makes her sympathetic to, well, just about anyone who’s ever had their friends and family attempt to weigh in on their troubles.

Shayna Blass and Linda High. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Shayna Blass and Linda High. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Keegan recently completed its purchase of Church Street Theater, the company’s long-time home. If Rabbit Hole is any indication, The Keegan Theatre is energized by the development rather than taking the opportunity to rest on their laurels. They have a warm, endearing (and funny) drama on their hands, and I heartily recommend it. And to the members of The Keegan Theatre on achieving a permanent space, I offer that most traditional of Irish benefactions: Mazel Tov!

Running Time:Two hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission.

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Rabbit Hole plays through July 21, 2013 at Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street, NW. in Washington D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 892-0202, or purchase them online.

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