Laundry lines: Becca (Stacy Ross, foreground) listens to Mom (Lynne Soffer) in 'Rabbit Hole.'
Hole of Grief
SJ Rep's 'Rabbit Hole' looks at a mother's anguish
By Marianne Messina
'ACCIDENTS aren't contagious," says Becca (Stacy Ross), the lead character in San Jose Repertory Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole. Becca has recently lost her 4-year-old son, Danny, to a car accident, and she's commenting on why her friends with children don't call. In response, Becca's husband, Howie (Andy Murray), tries to explain that the issue is hard for people to deal with. Good thing playwright David Lindsay-Abaire kept this fact in mind as he prepared to put the subject before theater audiences.
The play starts out funny with Becca playing straight man to her zany sister, Izzy (Jessa Watson), as Izzy reveals, in a convoluted way, that she's pregnant. Hints and then details of Becca's tragedy inch out through the humor, so when an angry Becca finally snarls out the brief capsule of Danny's death, we're fully prepared. Weaving a gentle tapestry from the multifarious ways people grieve—Howie struggles to keep Danny's belongings while Becca struggles to distance herself from them—Rabbit Hole avoids overly neat, schmaltzy outcomes and steers away from the predictable.
Under the direction of Kirsten Brandt, the play evokes a broader world than the one defined by Becca's grief. Made homey with lighting by David Lee Cuthbert, Kate Edmunds' scenic design—dining room with escritoire, spacious living room with warm, rounded floor lamps, kitchen with appliance lights glowing softly in the dark—sweeps up to ceilings so high they tower over the second-floor landing. As in life, if you focus closely on the drama, it's easy to miss what's above the house walls, a screen where a blue sky fills with clouds or dusk streaks ribbons of orange light across the darkening sky.
Cuthbert's lighting for one scene, just after Howie and Becca argue, lets Becca's shadow trace her movement on the wall as she mounts the stairs. Once she's left, Howie begins to play a videotape of Danny, and a shadow emerging along the upper wall suggests that Becca has returned to the top of the stairs to listen in—and then the shadow disappears. With this small detail, Brandt weighs in on a later argument between Howie and Becca when he accuses her of knowing what was on that videotape.
Though the play doesn't clobber us with grief, it does seem to want to leave us with a residue, like puzzlement, the feeling of unfinished business, emptiness. The production uses Danny's bedroom to craft the sense of emptiness over the course of the play. Edmunds has designed a neat, small room tucked behind a veil-like scrim until it rolls forward (a bit clunkily), and we see Becca sitting on the blue bedspread near a floppy, sprawling stuffed animal. All the boyish toys and boy posters sit neatly in place in shelves, on dressers and over walls. Here, Becca reads a letter from Jason, the driver who hit Danny.
The next time we see Danny's bedroom, Becca and her mother, Nat (Lynn Soffer), are chatting, dismantling the room by piling plastic dinosaurs and robotic dogs into milk crates. The mother-daughter dialogue continues as the bed is stripped and the crates are removed, and there grows an ever-stronger sense of a presence or personality bleeding out. Jason (James Breedlove) is the most unresolved character, enigmatic, soft-spoken, high school age. Breedlove's Jason is reticent, and he leaves his emotions and his trajectory since the accident unarticulated. In a way, the audience like Becca isn't allowed to "figure things out," and so the ending may not be the most satisfying, but then some endings aren't supposed to be.
Rabbit Hole, a San Jose Repertory Theatre production, plays Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm (2pm only June 10) through June 10 at the Rep, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $35-$56. (408.367.7255)
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