Celebrating 99 seasons, Vagabond Players continues its time-honored tradition to present rich, relevant high-quality shows in its recent production of Rabbit Hole. A work of the prolific playwright, lyricist, librettist and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole has been the recipient of five Tony nominations (culminating in Cynthia Nixon’s win for Best Actress), the Spirit of America Award, as well as the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Under the well-whetted direction of Eric C. Stein, Rabbit Hole tells the story of late 30-something parents Becca (Zarah Rautell) and Howie (Don Kammann), eight months after a tragic car accident took the life of their four-year-old son Danny and examines how they struggle to process, adapt and cope with their loss as they try to move forward with their lives.
Set on an exceptionally-efficient, half-cross sectioned stage creatively designed by Maurice “Moe” Conn, each room is carefully compartmentalized, featuring fastidious details and décor expected in a real-life, middle-class suburban residence. Emotionally-engrossing in one moment and divertingly delightful in the next, successive scenes trace the gradual progression of Becca and Howie’s daily lives complete with birthday parties, family get-togethers and wine nights only to have subtle reminders of Danny resurface at virtually every turn. A copy of The Runaway Bunny haunts their book shelf like an unforgiving ghost. Similarly, a favorite family videotape signifies a fragile grip on sanity. Later, when Becca’s mother discovers a tiny pair of boots while cleaning out Danny’s room, Becca has to immediately grab them out of her hands and discard them before their presence consumes her.
Zarah Rautell is cautious and conscientious as Becca, treading delicately between heartache and rage without coming off too irresolute or too caustic. She makes effective use of tense, bruised, stoical intonations and body language. Becca’s pursed lips, wearily battened-down expressions, and quiet speaking cadences, in particular, testify to the control she is anxiously trying to espouse as she mechanically folds Danny’s clothes, serves food or tidies around the house.
Becca spars sporadically with her slightly eccentric mother Nat who is convincingly played by Amy Jo Shapiro, over their respective mourning strategies, which may be readily recognized and understood by other grief-stricken families. Shapiro’s Nat also serves to enliven the scenes and provide welcome comic relief amidst often frustrating family dynamics. Don Kammann, as Howie, however, displays a wide array of emotions, including a couple of palpable outbursts, yet generally rendered a reserved counterpart of Becca who, though seemingly detached, is weathered with grief and often wears her heart on her sleeve.
Rounding out the marvelous ensemble is Ryan Gunning as Becca’s younger sister Izzy and high school senior Brendon Morrison as Jason, the boy who hit Danny while driving just a little bit too fast through the neighborhood. The main and supporting cast are terrific, with each bringing his/her unique refinements and rich-nuanced tone to the script.
Compelling and considerably resonant, Vagabond’s Rabbit Hole is a powerful, poignant production that presents a parent’s worst nightmare in an evocative manner designed not to strain our senses with sadness but to strengthen them, offering optimism that even in our darkest and most challenging moments, life will gradually get better and our raw wounds will have an opportunity to heal in due time.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.