Reviewed by Will Stackman
The author of "Rabbit Hole", South Boston-born David Lindsay-Abaire, has been rather pigeonholed as the creator of offbeat plays with outre characters. His work so far has however stressed simple human values despite the fantastic situations in these works. In this script, he seems to have tried to keep everything very normal, if there is such a condition. Individuality rears its head, of course and the title refers to a simplistic view of infinity and alternate universes, but there's no escaped convict who talks to a puppet, or love affair for a prematurely aged teenager. Yet by the end of this urban fable, the real has been made strange, or at least particular, and the ending is as usual hopeful, despite the odds.
The story, as in most of Abaire's work, centers around a woman with a problem. In this case it's Becca, a suburban housewife played by Donna Bullock, who lost her four year-old son, Danny, a short while before in a accident. The boy ran after his dog into the street and was struck by a teenage driver passing by. Bullock is a New York actress with varied credits in musical and legitimate theatre, well suited to the part which won Cynthia Nixon a Tony last season. Becca has created a hardboiled shell around her grief. We first meet her in the kitchen of her Larchmont home sorting the boy's clothes to give to charity. Her flighty younger sister, Izzy--for Isabel, played by off Broadway actress Geneva Carr--is recounting decking a woman in a bar and finally reveals that she's pregnant by her boyfriend, a "real" musician.
When her mother Natalie, played by regional theatre veteran Maureen Anderman appears in a later scene, we get insights into both her daughters' characters, We discover that Natalie is still grieving for their older brother, who died of a heroin overdose several years ago. Becca's husband, Howie, an investment broker played by Atlantic Theatre Co. member Jordan Lage, appears in the scene between, trying to reestablish their marital relationship. Howie winds up watching a video of Danny, alone. All this seemingly ordinary activity could easily devolve into daytime drama, but the dialogue is smart, the situation played with believable suppressed emotion, and the action is not always predictable. The structure is delicate but solid.
Becca manages to convince Howie to sell the house, because of the memories. However, she does allow him to bring the dog back--Tass has been staying with her mother, who overfeeds him. There's a bit of a crisis when the teenager shows up wanting to talk to them, but this awkward situation resolves itself, when socially inept Jason, played Troy Deutsch, meets with Becca alone one afternoon. Howie couldn't face him. There's no simple epiphany, but just a glimmer of possibility in a sci-fi tale about the infinity of alternate universes which the kid has published in his school magazine--and dedicated to Danny. In the end, Howie and Becca don't quite get to "happily ever after," but it seems "they live" again. And probably in the same house.
The only problem with this first rate production may be the approach to the setting. Scenic designer James Noone has once again used the B.U. shop to create a detailed, almost overwhelming set. Kitchen, living room, and Danny's room are all detailed wagons which trundle on and off, somewhat slowing the pace of the show. Their house is an important part of the equation, but becomes almost too prominent. It would be interesting to see this drama on a unit set where all three areas were visible from start to finish. Costumes by Laurie Churba help the actors slip into their roles. Dennis Parichy's lighting completes the realistic feel. Director John Tillinger has helped his cast use their experience to form a tight ensemble with no breaks in the action. Abaire's distinctive tone gives the play a fresh feeling, a new look at a family tragedy from a wryly comic world-view. The script deserved its Tony nomination, and could be Pulitzer material as well.