After sitting through two acts of around fifty-five minutes each at the Union Theatre, quite why David Lindsey-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, five Tony nominations, and the Spirit of America Award, remains something of a mystery. Clearly, it had an appeal on the other side of the Atlantic that seems to be missing here, or is it that a dramatic style that appealed in 2006 no longer resonates in the same way?
a play replete with lows but lacking in highs
To start, let’s make sure we have the right sort of rabbit hole to go down. This is not in the style of Alice’s plunge into a fabulously thrilling underworld of surrealist excitement, crazy characters and fast-moving events. Instead turn to Merriam-Webster who defines it as ‘a complexly bizarre or difficult state or situation conceived of as a hole into which one falls or descends…especially: one in which the pursuit of something (such as an answer or solution) leads to other questions, problems, or pursuits’. That brings us closer to the variations on a theme which occupy the play’s characters, yet even then suggests more depth, probing, investigation and analysis than is to be found in their interactions.
Becca (Julia Papp) and Howie (Kim Hardy) were living the American dream, their careers progressing and their social standing rising along with their salaries. Then a tragedy strikes that destroys their family, damages their relationship and takes them down the same hole that soon splits into separate tunnels for each of them as they try to come to terms with what has happened. They are assisted, or not, by Becca’s sister Izzy (Ty Glaser), who has clearly not made similar progress in life and is now carrying a problem of her own, and Nat (Emma Vansittar) mother to the two girls, for whom the suicide of her son still lingers on in her memory. Finally, there is the appearance of young Jason (Max Pemberton), the source of the tragedy to whom Becca and Howie respond very differently.
Ethan Cheek’s set is white and very pale grey; a bland, functional sitting room and breakfast bar that lacks any notable features or artwork that a minimalist interior designer might have included. Even the books on the shelf are just untitled shapes painted uniformly in the same grey. If it is a metaphor for anything it is certainly not obvious, unless it is symbolic of all colour having been taken out of their lives and that now resides in the canopy of toys that hang from above. That decor and distant splash of colour reflects the bulk of the script which has some moments of intensity but also tends to drag as the central themes are revisited with only marginal additions to the debate.
It’s not for want of trying on the part of a well-matched cast. Papp and Hardy capture the plight of the couple's devastated life; Glazer reflects the world they came from and from which she has not emerged; Vansittar brings the humour of a well-meaning yet interfering mother, full of ramblings and forgetfulness yet also the understanding and sadness rooted in her own experience making her someone who should be listened to. In a brief yet significant role that serves to highlight the differences in outlook between Becca and Howie, Pemberton gives a delicate and earnest performance. Together they reveal the frictions and tensions that permeate their relationships and the struggle to find reconciliation.
Overall, however, it remains unsatisfying. Whatever vision Director Lawrence Carmichael might have for this production, remains unclear. To a large extent, it is interesting yet lifeless and fails to inject sufficient contrasts into a play replete with lows but lacking in highs.