Show: Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay Abaire

At: Spotlight Players, Beech Grove IN

 Director: Brent Wooldridge

 Seen: Opening Night June 4, 2010

 I anticipate that it will be fairly difficult to write a review for a production of a play I myself have directed in the past. I led CCP’s version of this remarkable play in October of last year and feel I know the play as well as anyone in the state might know it. So I’ll admit, I came in with some preconceptions that may have affected my enjoyment of the show. I’m a picky audience member as it is, but to have such a working knowledge of a piece – to have studied it and taught it to a cast – well, it really had an effect

That’s not to say I did not enjoy the show. There were many good things about Spotlight Players’ production of Rabbit Hole which opened last night at their Beech Grove theatre. The set was extremely well-done. It featured a very workable design finished off with new furniture in the dining room/living room areas (ask director Brent Wooldridge about the furniture – it’s a great story in itself), the decorations were scarce and appropriate for a modern family’s home – especially the photographs by Anthony Carlino which lined the walls. The acting was solid across the board, with Kristi Wilkinson Gross, Serita Borgeas, and Nick Heskett (as Izzy, Nat and Jason) doing good jobs with their characters and with Ericka Barker and Earl Campbell (as Becca and Howie) leading the way in their 2 person scenes which were powerful, taut and magic in their connectivity.

And the script itself – the story of a couple’s coping with the accidental loss of their preschool aged son – is superbly written with underplayed emotion, highly tragic circumstance, realistic dialogue and with a quality of high impact for the audience – it is no wonder it has found it’s way to 3 Indianapolis area stages in the last 12 months (IRT also presented the show last season). This is a worthy 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner.

But……..there were things that bothered me.

Kristi Wilkinson Gross is a very good actress. I have seen her in two of her past shows, as Sylvia (the dog) in Sylvia and as Katherine (the younger daughter) in Spotlight Player’s production of Proof and she blew me away on both occasions. So I know she is a very capable actress, with a wide range and a wonderful understanding of the stage arts. But her Izzy in last night’s show left something to be desired in my opinion. Her Izzy was mostly normal, pretty sweet and not at all extreme. To me – Izzy (rhymes with Dizzy) is an alternative style character. She drinks, slugs people in bars, gets fired from her waitress job (again!) plus other plot-spoilers-if-I wrote-about-them and is just generally the antithesis of her mostly proper middle class sister Becca. Gross’s Izzy appears to be a fit-in version of her sister and this just makes for less of a contrast than I understood the characters to have.

The story told by Izzy which opens the play had no urgency, no excitement and so the audience is less than captured by the two sisters and the fact that Becca rules in terms of propriety and Izzy, the younger sister, is a struggling, far less polished version of her sibling.

I have seen Serita Borgeas in one other play, The Trip to Bountiful just a few weeks ago, so I know she too is a wonderful actress (and a busy one). I also shared the stage with her husband Steve Demuth recently, so I know Serita socially as well. I felt her portrayal of Nat, like Kristi’s Izzy, lacked some of the color and fun that I came to know in the character. I never saw Nat do anything that would have made her two daughters not want to have her around – making her rather bizarre observations, drinking a bit too much and showing the effects. Serita does show the ultimate caring Nat feels for her daughter’s loss – but what seems missing is the circuitous route she takes to get to her wisdom. We are missing some stops along the way, in my opinion.

I do not know Nick Heskett. I saw that he possesses a wonderful stage voice and has a great, handsome and youthful look working for him. His character, Jason Willette, had a nice contrite, ill-at-ease quality to him which I liked very much. All I would ask is that he keeps his hands either in his pockets, or out of his pockets or behind his back. He has the young actor tendency of using his hands for expression in an unsure manner – with short bursts of movement followed by jamming it (his right hand mostly) back into his pocket. This is done maybe 15 or 20 times in a first act monologue with the effect being a constant upstaging of himself. It is the expression on his face that is important at this point, in my opinion. Each hand movement pulls the audience’s eye off his face momentarily and the repeated motion is distracting.

Now, I will admit this is such a minute point as to make you, the reader, say – “why even bring up such a thing?” Well, I am hoping the young man reads this and will start noticing things like this and realize how all those unnecessary motions are taking away from his portrayal, albeit slightly.

Likewise, I mean the comments here written not as criticism but more as an unsolicited teaching. I’m afraid I can’t help myself in this side of me and if it comes off as self-serving or brings the reaction of “how dare he!” I apologize.

There were other annoyances – longish set changes, music that broke a mood, unchanged script words that did not relate to props that were different than their reference (robot bedspread, for example), but it was small stuff.

I truly enjoyed the show. I love this script. And as I related previously, the magical scenes with Becca and Howie, there are 3 of them, showed just how hard Ericka Barker and Earl Campbell had worked on them and what a fine understanding they had of the couple’s plight.

I had not seen Ericka in anything before, so this was a very wonderful treat. She shows good command of the character, and though I would have liked to see more focus on reacting at times, as opposed to moving beer bottles or stuffing toys in a box, I felt like she handled a very tough role with aplomb.

Earl is a friend of mine and I directed him in his Encore nominated portrayal of Yvan in Yasmina Reza’s Art at CCP in 2008. I know he wanted to play Howie when I directed the show earlier this season, but other obligations (like getting married) kept him away from auditions. Earl is a very sensitive actor so this role was right in his emotional wheelhouse and it showed.

Although I have never worked with Brent, I have seen his fine work as an actor and as a director many times before. I want to congratulate him on choosing this play and on getting such a great cast to work with him on it. I would only say one thing to Brent in my teaching mode: always try to get the actors to answer the question – “Why did the character say that?” It usually opens so many doors to understanding.

All things considered – this is a must see show. I know the production will grow in it’s final two weekends, so I recommend you see it.

Rabbit Hole continues at Spotlight Players’ 524 Main Street in Beech Grove theater on Fri and Sat at 8 pm and Sunday at 2:30pm. Call 317-767-2774 for reservations.