Warning: You don’t have much time left! Nearly one third of Theater With a View’s performances of Rabbit Hole have been rained out (including the earlier one I was supposed to attend.) There are very few remaining showings of this unique and splendid production.
One of the raisons d’être of this company is to bring professional theater to places you’d never expect. In this case, the stage is the large backyard of a house, high in the hills of Pottstown. Seeing an Equity performance in this location is a shock.
Director Seth Reich likes to explore unusual ways to display theater, and Rabbit Hole revives the once-popular but now nearly forgotten concept of “theater in the round.” It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this configuration in a Philadelphia area theater. Many of the local playhouses, such as DCP and Steel River, were built with arena staging as a possibility, but these theaters have now anchored their seats for permanent proscenium presentation. True, the director has to stage the actors carefully so that every seat is the best seat, and the scenic possibilities are limited, but the intimacy that the actors can achieve more than compensates.
Reich has made another courageous choice in selecting this Pulitzer Prize winner. Most directors of outdoor productions choose plays such as As You Like It or Redwood Curtain, where the setting sun, crickets, and flying insects compliment the performance. Rabbit Hole is a multi-set, interior, almost kitchen sink, play that does not call for a grassy stage floor. Oddly enough, it doesn’t make any difference. Reich draws such deeply concentrated and sharply etched performances from the actors that the overwhelming outdoors disappears.
The subject of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play is grief, loss, and the supreme effort people must make to comfort each other in these mournful days. How can a family cope with the pointless, accidental death of a four-year-old child? Anyone who has ever been a parent, or lost someone close, cannot help but be emotionally drawn into this simple story.
The anchor of the evening is Nina Covalesky as Becca, who provides a textbook illustration of underacting. Everyone in the play is trying to cope with the tragedy, but Becca cannot. She remains lost in a haze of doubt and despair that makes her doubt the existence of God and the value of life. She is unable to understand that the others share her grief, because theirs is a little different. Much of Covalesky’s performance is quiet listening as we search her infinitely expressive face for a sign of hope or relief. Her stalwart confusion will be taken to heart for a long, long time.
Drew Seltzer plays the husband, Howie, as one who seems to be returning to normal. But anyone who has studied the stages of grief will discover that Howie is just as devastated as Becca, but in a different place in the process. This results in an inability to communicate that threatens to destroy the marriage. It is a well-known fact that the loss of a child renders many loving marriages impracticable. Howie has one of the few moments of clamorous outcry and Seltzer’s deeply felt portrayal makes the most of it. Extraordinary.
There are some light moments. Jessica Myhr is Izzy, Becca’s younger, immature sister. Her idea of humor is a shower curtain picturing The Three Stooges. She is accidentally pregnant, which sets off complex feelings in Becca, who is convinced that the girl is simply not prepared for the complexities of parenting. Myhr specifically captures the lightheaded energy that can easily lead to an unexpected one-night stand. Add to this the mother, Nat, played by Jo Twiss, someone who continually tries to lighten the mood with wild theories about the Kennedys and stories of her unusual past. Her performance turns suddenly tragic as we discover that her grief is a real as the others, just different. Connor Johnston completes the cast as a humbled high school student with a sorrowful secret, but one who can still look forward to a full, rewarding life.
These performances combine to create an unforgettable evening.
The setting by Stephan Moravski, is an excellent arranging of the furniture (on a sloping hill, no less.) The concept loses some power when a scene in the child’s elaborately decorated room is restaged to the kitchen, but most of it works well. Inherent Style provides the simple, appropriate costumes.
Arena lighting is always a problem. Designer Emilie Leasure has no ceiling to hang the necessary overhead lighting to keep the glare from the eyes of the audience. Director Reich composed appropriate and moody piano music to indicate the endings of the many scenes, since there are no blackouts.
Reich proved in last summer’s patio setting of Detroit that he has an uncanny knack for drawing acute performances from actors, and Nina Covalesky is his regular and superb leading lady. If you are able to catch one of the few remaining performances, your effort will be infinitely rewarded. You will join fifty others sitting in a simple circle sharing this combined knowledge of human frailty, and of the heart’s natural desire to heal.
Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.