“Today, explore other versions of yourselves,” encourages Kriti Lodha ’12, the director of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Rabbit Hole,” in the playbill. “Today, don’t think. Just feel.” Lodha and producer Lexis B. Ross ’13 bring that statement of purpose to emotional life in the Loeb Experimental Theater. “Rabbit Hole,” which runs until April 9, powerfully chronicles the long road to closure and acceptance after the death of a loved one and portrays penetrating feelings of grief.
The play follows the journey of Becca (Margaret C. Kerr ’13) and Howie (Daniel Gale Rosen) Corbett through the aftermath of the death of their only son, Danny, who was hit by a car. Becca and Howie cope with the loss of their son in very different ways. While Becca draws away from loved ones, deflects offers of support from friends and family with biting sarcasm, and looks to escape from everything even remotely related to Danny, Howie puts all of his effort into hiding his emotions and pretending to move on. Both Becca and Howie try to reach the point where their grief, as Becca’s mother, Nat (Georgina B. Parfitt ’13) says, “turns into something you can crawl out from under and carry around. Like a brick in your pocket.”
In the end, Becca finds some comfort in the words from an unexpected character: Jason (Galt E. MacDermot ’14), the 17-year-old high school student who inadvertently hit Danny with his car. Becca decides that there are “different versions of us living different lives.” You merely need to travel through a rabbit hole, a figment of Jason’s science-fiction story, to a parallel universe to find that “there are other versions where things go our way.”
The pain and suffering of the Corbett family is quite literally strewn all over the floor—the set contains small reminders of the presence of a child, including a box of children’s toys in the foreground and a storybook on the coffee table. Just as remnants of Danny’s memory reside in every cavern of Becca and Howie’s minds, remnants of his existence remain in the Corbett residence. The subtle hints of an absent child bring this immeasurable grief to life.
In this milieu, Rosen and Kerr play off each other brilliantly. Their fights seem too real, to the point where the atmosphere is uncomfortable in just the right way. The two transform a quaint living room into a battle scene between a couple whose relationship is irretrievably damaged. Kerr’s tone drips with bitterness and intense anguish. Rosen expresses Howie’s dichotomy between putting on a strong face and unleashing his grief through bouts of anger and stubbornness.
The two main supporting characters offer different takes on grief that contrast with and accentuate Kerr’s. Parfitt, whether she is ranting about the bad luck of the Kennedy family or offering a light-hearted anecdote to cheer up Becca, charmingly lightens the dismal mood of the play and demonstrates a lighter approach to mourning. Parfitt is the epitome of a supportive and eccentric mother, the perfect complement to uptight Becca. Rachael Epstein, who plays Becca’s younger, slightly misguided sister Izzy, lights up the stage with her blunt, carefree vibrancy. Izzy and her sister could not be more different; Epstein’s kineticism highlights Becca’s stagnant grief.
The dark tone of the play is, for the most part, wonderfully echoed in the technical elements of the production. The emotionally charged soundtrack to accompany scene changes ensures that the atmosphere of tension and emotional stress carries through from scene to scene. In contrast, the somewhat liberal use of light-dimming to convey a foreboding tone seemed forced at times. The dimming of the lights during emotional climaxes obscured the power of the moment that the actors created on their own.
Despite these small flaws, brilliant acting and cast chemistry raise “Rabbit Hole” to deeply affecting heights; the production manages to do justice to an emotionally challenging piece.