The death of a child is a profoundly troubling event. For the grieving parents, especially, the heartache of loss is compounded by the deeply unnatural experience of outliving one’s offspring. The younger the child is when they pass, and the more unexpected the death, the more aberrant the experience will seem. The Theatre Group at SBCC explores this theme in the final play of its 2016-2017 season: Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsey-Abaire, is about a devastated couple’s journey forward after the accidental death of their young son.
Rabbit Hole is a strong choice for the Theatre Group’s final production. It won the Pulitzer in 2007, and the Broadway production was nominated for five Tony awards. Director Katie Laris described the play as having language with a musical quality and character arcs that are subtle yet powerful. The Theatre Groups’s production is staged in the more intimate Jurkowitz Theatre space, offering the potential for close connection between the audience and the small but strong cast.
Leslie Gangl Howe and Paul Canter play Becca and Howie, the heartbroken parents whose dissimilar processes of coping with the loss put them at painful odds as they try to work through the ache of an empty home and move forward with their lives. While Becca takes measures to avoid reminders of their son (she sells the house, wants to get rid of the dog, and removes mementos of her son from their living space), Howie immerses himself in photos and videos of his son. Becca can’t cope with living in the past, but Howie isn’t ready to move ahead. Laris, who has worked with both Canter and Gangl Howe on previous projects, describes the actors as having the ability to portray intelligent humor and genuine warmth (despite the sadness of the play’s premise) without losing the integrity of the character.
Rounding out the supporting cast is Shannon Saleh, Elaine Arnett, and Ryan Ostendorf. Saleh plays Becca’s pregnant sister, described by Laris as “funny, quirky, and pugnacious.” Arnett plays their mother, another woman who’s felt the grief of burying a child, who tries to counsel Becca through her anguish. Ostendorf, in his first role for the SBCC Theatre Group, plays Jason, the teenager involved in the child’s death. “This play rises and falls on the actors,” said Laris. “They’re all doing an excellent job listening to each other and moving step-by-step through the events of the play.”
Laris said that of the many plays she reads and sees every year, Rabbit Hole stood apart in its presentation of strong intention in dialogue that both defines the characters and their needs and pushes them toward a conclusion that will be relevant and meaningful to viewers. “I first read Rabbit Hole in 2007, shortly after it won the Pulitzer,” she explained. “It moved me profoundly. I loved the lack of sentimentality but the sense of hopefulness realistically and courageously won. I think we all need to know how to deal with loss, whether that’s on a deeply personal level or a national political one. How do we pick ourselves up and move forward? The play has so much compassion for its characters’ attempts to get unstuck.”
4·1·1 Rabbit Hole begins on Wednesday, April 12, and runs through Saturday, April 29, at SBCC’s Jurkowitz Theatre (721 Cliff Dr.). Call 965-5935 or see theatergroupsbcc.com.