reviewed by Larry Adams
1. a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorienting, the mentally deranging.
2. something that is intricate or convoluted like a labyrinth and often has no outlet or resolution.
Nothing succeeds in community theater like the tried and true comedies, mysteries and musicals; precisely why I appreciate and admire those venues which periodically take a chance on a lesser known, perhaps more challenging (for both the cast and audience) piece. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal and even the necessity of the time-tested standards. Theaters have to “put butts in the seats” to remain solvent, and, as a semi-regular audience member myself, I can attest to the fact that sometimes, after a long week of work, life, and whatever, you really just wanna sit back and be entertained. But I truly feel that it is also the obligation of our local theaters to stretch the minds of their audiences on occasion, to comment on the human condition, and to leave their patrons pondering unanswered questions and possibilities rather than neat and happy endings. Fortunately, Mud Creek Players’ production of Rabbit Hole accomplishes all of these more lofty-sounding goals, while managing to entertain as well.
Just before closing up my office last night and starting the long trek from Zionsville to East 82nd Street for the show, I texted my wife to remind her of my gig as guest reviewer for A Seat on the Aisle and to give her the thumbnail sketch of what I thought I was in for. “A 4-year-old boy is accidentally run over,” I typed, sarcastically adding, “and hilarious hijinks ensue.” You can imagine my surprise to find I was not that far off. That’s because David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning script somehow pulls off an amazing feat: conjuring up that most devastating of human experiences- the loss of a child- and balancing it with a subtle humor that reads as natural, unforced and honest; taking a premise that would seem almost inevitably to lead to either the relentlessly depressing or maudlin, and instead leaving the audience with an experience that is- dare I say- enjoyable while still tugging at the strings of both the mind and the heart.
Credit a fine cast and the deft touch of director Michelle Moore for successfully bringing such a challenging script to the stage. Holly Hathaway (whom I last saw in a flawless performance as part of one of the finest productions I have ever had the pleasure to attend, CCP’s August: Osage County– and, yeah, okay, my mom was in it, but still…) delivers a rich portrayal of Becca, a mother eight months into her struggle to cope with the accidental death of her four-year old son, Danny. In what is a fairly balanced ensemble piece, Ms. Hathaway’s character gives us the widest range of emotions, swinging from laughter to anger to tears, from love to resentment to hopelessness, often within the same scene and always in a manner that seems natural and sincere. Becca’s husband Howie, played by Robert Webster with just the right mix of restraint, frustration and, at times, rage, is the perfect complement to his mate: one ready to move on but holding on to the memories, the other stuck in place and unable to tolerate them.
From left: Jen Otterman (as Nat), Kimberly Biberstein (Izzy), Holly Hathaway (Becca), Robert Webster (Howie) and Kyle Dorsch (Jason) in a scene from Mud Creek Players’ “Rabbit Hole”.
Kimberly Biberstein gives a spirited, fun performance as Izzy, Becca’s generally care free and irresponsible sister. Though ably carrying much of the humor of the show, Ms. Biberstein still manages to convey that Izzy too has not been immune to the loss of her nephew. The final member of the family on stage, Becca’s and Izzy’s mother Nat, is played by Jen Otterman, and her performance is a true delight. Charmingly flaky, and giving the audience a sense that age has perhaps taken a slight toll on her verbal filters, Nat’s musings on the Curse of the Kennedys provides some welcome, lighthearted moments in the first act, while a touching scene with Becca in the second hints at an underlying wisdom born of carrying a heavy burden for so many years. Taken together, these four characters illustrate the depth of human despair in the face of senseless tragedy, the desperate and disparate attempts to cope and help each other, and the conflicts that inevitably arise.
The one missed note in the roster of characters is Jason, the teenage driver who accidentally causes Danny’s death. This is not, I must emphasize, the fault of the actor, Kyle Dorsche, who I frankly feel plays the role for everything it’s worth. In this case, I blame the author, who admittedly has one more Pulitzer Prize than I do. In a play that is striking for the complexity and authenticity of its characters, Jason’s appearances are distractingly written in one or perhaps two dimensional fashion, drifting between cartoonishly nerdish and almost serial killer creepy. Taking a character whose expected guilt, regret and anguish would seem ripe for development and exploration, the author instead goes for- well, I’m not exactly sure what, really, certainly not comedy relief- with a character who is somehow both prying and oddly detached from the destruction he has caused. If there was a point to be made, Mr. Lindsay-Abaire, I missed it.
The production and the play itself are not without other flaws. A hinted-at affair that screams “PLOT COMPLICATION!” seems to go almost nowhere, and a marriage being slowly ripped apart suddenly appears to make a rebound for no apparent reason. The humor, which requires a subtle touch in its delivery to feel natural and honest, drifts dangerously close to sitcom levels on a couple of occasions, and the second act drags a bit both in material and pacing. These are minor quibbles, however. “Bottomline,” as Mr. Klingenmeier would say: Mud Creek Players has staged a remarkable production of a remarkable show, one that will leave you talking, laughing, crying, and thinking long after the lights have dimmed. I urge you to take a trip down the Rabbit Hole.
Rabbit Hole continues at Mud Creek Players through March 4th. For ticket information and reservations go to http://www.mudcreekplayers.org or call 317-290-5343.
- – Photo from Mud Creek Players