When playwright David Lindsay-Abaire was at Juilliard, his mentor, Marsha Norman, told him to write a play about something he was genuinely and deeply afraid of. As a parent of two young children, he thought losing one of them would be about the most frightening prospect imaginable, and thus began Rabbit Hole, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning play that will be produced this weekend at UCSB. When director Irwin Appel speaks about his choice of this show, the first thing he insists is that Rabbit Hole is “uplifting.” “It’s not sentimental or mawkish,” Appel said. “The subject is really the relationships of the survivors and how those evolve over time.”
Appel said he chose the show partly because it has “several meaty roles for women,” who make up a significant portion of his students. But Rabbit Hole passes another crucial test of Appel’s: It has a real reason to be. “In this job, I get to pick material for all the right reasons,” he said. “It’s liberating not to be under the pressures of a commercial theater-to be consistent or to cater to a specific audience. With a play like Rabbit Hole, all I am hoping is that people take the chance.”
UCSB acting student Joelle Golda will play Becca, the mother of the boy who has been killed in an accident. The role was played in New York by Cynthia Nixon, and it is reported that Nicole Kidman has optioned the rights for the film version, so this has to be a wonderful role for any ambitious young actress. Sean Harrigan will play her husband, Howie, and Jack Watson, who made a striking impression in UCSB’s recent production of Twelfth Night, will play Jason, the young man responsible for the death. According to Appel, there is a scene between Becca and Jason that is among his favorite moments in recent American theater. “It is way more than sad,” Appel said. “This is a good young man, and you realize that, like the grieving parents, his life has been changed forever by what has happened.” Coping with overwhelming loss is complex, and in Rabbit Hole, that complexity is honored with craft, compassion, and even humor.
Rabbit Hole will be performed in the UCSB Performing Arts Theatre on November 13, 14, and 17-21 at 8 p.m. and on November 14, 15, and 21 at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, visit www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu.