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A 'Rabbit Hole' TheatreWorks Stages Lindsay-Abaire Drama to Perfection

By Jamie Ferris, The Housatonic Times


American Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is no stranger to TheatreWorks New Milford, which staged his hauntingly hilarious satire "Kimberly Akimbo" in 2005 and his uproarious "Fuddy Meers" in 2004. Now the theater has taken on the playwright's 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winner for drama, "Rabbit Hole," a production unlike his other works.

There aren't any amnesiacs ("Fuddy Meers") or teenagers who age five times the normal rate ("Kimberly Akimbo") in this play. Nor is this a whimsical, "Alice in Wonderland" journey, as the show's title may suggest. Rather, Mr. Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole" focuses on the devastation of a suburban couple trying to survive the aftermath of a life-altering freak accident.

What film and television would normally milk for sentimentality and melodrama, Mr. Lindsay-Abaire instead poetically crafts into a drama that examines the all-too-familiar heartache of an ordinary family. While there is unexpected wit throughout, this "Rabbit Hole" is an intense and insightful examination of grief and its many stages. TheatreWorks New Milford's production, directed brilliantly by Susan Pettibone and evocatively and honestly portrayed by a talented cast, is heavy on emotion, but worth every last tear.

At first the audience is in the dark as to what has rattled this family to its core. Viewers feel like nosey neighbors, peeking through the windows of this family's Larchmont, N.Y., home as its tale of loss unravels with brilliant dialogue and unexpected humor. Viewers wonder, as the story unfolds, what the future may hold for Becca and Howie.

The plot centers around the after effects the accidental death of Becca and Howie's 4-year-old son, Danny, has had on them. We see how the family deals with-or doesn't-this tragedy as it mourns eight months after the event. But the playwright never beats viewers over the head with overwrought metaphors or melodrama. In this story, some jokes, anecdotes and well-meaning advice sting like salt on an open wound; family conversations seem to spastically spin in circles, until rueful unease sets in following an unexpected visit from a high school student. While it all sounds over-the-top, in the hands of Ms. Pettibone and this remarkable cast, Mr. Lindsay-Abaire's story rings organically true. This isn't fabrication; it's real, and that's what makes this two-act play so searing and powerful.

Leading this amazing cast is Jackie Decho-Holm as Becca, who has kept her anger, despair and loss brewing quietly below the surface. A former Sotheby's employee-turned stay-at-home-mom, she is unsure of her life's role now that her son is gone. Viewers meet her as she ritualistically sorts and folds laundry and listens to the most recent escapades of her uber-spirited sister, Izzy (Heather Nicolson). But as the scene progresses, we realize she is folding child-size clothing, and it all begins to click. While in some hands this role could be overly sentimental and exceedingly theatrical, Ms. Decho-Holm maintains a haunting fragility, subtly capturing Becca's pain.

It is this first glimpse that sets the pace for the rest of the production, as grief brings the members of the family together. But as viewers soon discover, that very same sorrow keeps them apart emotionally.

Bringing a realistic dose of wit to the production-without the obvious make-'em-laugh tension breakers-is Heather Nicolson, making her TheatreWorks debut as Becca's sister, Izzy. From the start, she's a firecracker-and not much of a role model-but when the emotion of the story reaches climatic heights, she becomes an unexpected voice of reason. Her performance is so natural opposite Ms. Decho-Holm and Sonnie Osborne, as the sisters' mother, Nat, you'd bet they were related.

No stranger to TheatreWorks or David Lindsay-Abaire (she starred in "Fuddy Meers in 2004), Ms. Osborne portrays Nat, her chemistry with Ms. Nicolson propelling family dynamics while it struggles against trauma. Ms. Osborne offers her fair share of comic relief (her rambling about the "Kennedy curse" is hilarious), but her shining dramatic moment comes when Nat and Becca talk about grief and tells Becca that the pain may change, but it will never go away. Kevin Sosbe offers a stunning performance as Becca's husband, Howie, who has a very different way of dealing with his grief over his son's loss, ultimately putting additional strain on the couple's marriage. His most powerful scene comes not through Mr. Lindsay-Abaire's expressive dialogue, but when he portrays Howie's silent suffering. At the other end of the spectrum is his unbridled anger when Jason (portrayed by a very sincere and gifted Rob Onorato), the young boy involved in the accident, unexpectedly arrives at the couple's home. Both Mr. Sosbe and Mr. Onorato are new to TheatreWorks, and one can only hope audiences will see more of them.

A beautifully rendered set designed by Erik Diaz and set dressing by Glenn Couture brings a magnificent layer to the production in creating what appears to be a suburban utopia. They have created to great effect a contemporary, yet homey living room, a gorgeous kitchen-complete with running water and a fully-stocked refrigerator-and a playful child's room. This is one of the most spectacular sets seen upon the TheatreWorks stage, used to great effect throughout the production. Kudos also go to lighting and sound design by Richard Pettibone

While "Rabbit Hole" is a heavy, emotion-driven tear-jerker that will do little to raise spirits in such difficult times, it is a brilliantly directed, beautifully rendered and, ultimately, uplifting production. It may not be the whimsical trip down a rabbit hole its title suggests, but it is a realistic story of a family overcoming tragedy and looking toward the future with hope. Just remember the Kleenex.

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