Sunday, April 08, 2007

Rabbit Hole

Writ: David Lindsay Abaire, Dir: Naomi Edwards, Red Stitch Theatre

Rabbit Hole was my second experience of live theatre after seeing Don's Party at The Arts Centre earlier in the year. By chance, Naomi Edwards was assistant director of that production. The Red Stitch Theatre is a smaller and intimate venue. I don't feel particularly qualified to comment in detail on Rabbit Hole as I am not acquainted with the various devices of the medium and have few frames of reference. I offer my perception as a newbie.

My interest in theatre was first roused after reading Alison Croggon’s review of Alkinos Tsilimidos' Em 4 Jay (my favourite film of 2006) on Theatre Notes, and the subsequent contact I had with her. This blog came about as a result of Alison’s suggestion (I’d been contributing to IMDB and At The Movies message boards prior to that).

By chance, late last year I picked up a Red Stitch Theatre brochure at the Westgarth cinema during the Italian Film Festival. I noticed pictures of Laura Gordon and Kat Stewart, who played Em and her sister Jane in Em 4 Jay. I decided then that I’d like to see a performance with these fabulous actors. While Gordon and Nick Barkla (as Jay) excelled, for me Stewart’s small nuanced role at the Kew Boathouse was the heart and soul of this remarkable film.

I understand that Gordon has a US agent and is pursuing her career there. Rabbit Hole has Stewart playing the pivotal role of Becca, a grieving mother who lost her four year old son Danny when he chased the family dog into the path of a passing car. Howie (David Whitely) is the grieving father and much of the play concerns itself with the roller coaster of emotions as the couple argue over their conflicting grief. Becca is tormented by memories of Danny; Howie is aghast that Becca appears to be erasing signs of his existence.

Jason (Martin Sharpe) is the young driver who may or may not have been speeding, is consumed by guilt and has a need for resolution with the grieving family. The title of the play is a reference to a story he wrote at school dedicated to Danny, but also refers to the way the plot unravels at the start. Becca has discussions first with her sister Izzy (Erin Dewar) and then Howie. The audience has to make sense of their realities, which gradually unravels as the dialogue progresses. The title then seems to be an indirect reference to Alice in Wonderland.

The play’s theme is grief – how people deal with it differently and how this results in friction and conflict. Prior to the performance, I had no idea of its subject. Straight away my points of reference are cinematic, and it strongly recalls Sean Penn's excellent The Crossing Guard (1995), a small independent film in which a drunk driver (David Morse) is being released from jail after serving time for the death of a young boy. His parents (Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston) are still grieving. Rabbit Hole has a different way of telling a similar story.

Having lost my own teenage son less than four months ago, my emotions are still quite raw. The ways in which each protagonist expresses grief, and the nature of their conflict was very real. The dialogue was nuanced, natural, idiosyncratic and felt very authentic.

Stewart’s role was pivotal - the play depicted her character interacting with her husband, sister, mother (played by Collette Mann) and the devastated young driver torn with guilt. Having appreciated Stewart's performance in Em 4 Jay, it was a delight to see her with significant stage presence in Rabbit Hole. Sharpe’s performance as the young driver was especially stunning and convincing.

Overall, I found the play well-written and convincingly performed. It was quietly insightful with subdued naturalistic humour, and interesting without being overly profound. It perhaps didn’t have the emotional impact it could but that’s possibly because the writing skilfully avoids the melodrama or sentimentality that the subject could easily have produced. I found it a modest but serious production.

In contrast to my other theatre experience, Don's Party was more mainstream and played to a larger audience in a major venue. I preferred the more casual environment of Red Stitch. Don's Party was more observational than insightful and entertaining rather than challenging. I saw Rabbit Hole on its closing night to a full house.

Photos: David Whitely and Kat Stewart, Martin Short and Kat Stewart

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