Becca and Howie are two parents trying to muddle their way back to a sense of normalcy after the accidental death of their child. It is clear that Becca's sister, Izzy, and mom, Nat, are also profoundly touched, and the close family relationships, as established in the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves' production, are central to this story.
The neat but somewhat shabby home of Becca and Howie, designed to efficiently use every bit of the stage by director Betsy Burnett-Belanger and John Hann, fits the working class attitude and social stature of its inhabitants. It reflects the well-worn comfort of a close family, and the sorrow of an inexplicable loss. As the play continues, and the presence of Danny physically recedes, the stage itself seems to sigh, the clutter giving way to reveal longing -- empty walls and corners looking for new life.
The underlying pain and tension that drives this show is palpable from the opening moments. The two sisters are discussing an altercation Izzy recently had at a bar. There's an easy back and forth between them and each falls into her respective roll: the stable, settled older sister and the wilder, less predictable younger one. Kathryn Kent's Becca calmly doles out mature, responsible concern while Michelle Moll's Izzy, and her over-the-top tale of punching another woman at a bar, burns with pent up energy. Both actors are well cast, resulting in a familiar dynamic that avoids cliché and finds moments to connect with genuine affection and concern.
As the play continues, however, we see that Becca's calm and unchanging demeanor is a mask for the pain and grief she's feeling inside. Whether she's admonishing her sister, chastising her mother, played with gritty resiliency, warmth and humor by Jane Abling, or simply speaking to the young man in part responsible for her son's death, a small but touching performance by Ryan Rader, Kent's Becca doesn't let anyone get too close or offer too much comfort to her. She is as careful to hold onto her grief as she is to maintain a sense of moving beyond this moment, of getting past his death. The character's steely resolve finally begins to crack during a powerfully sparse, well-acted scene between Kent and Abling.
The most heart wrenching moments, however, occur between Becca and her husband. Watching Kent interact with Jack Abels, as her husband Howie, is at times appropriately difficult. Dealing with an immeasurable loss, neither character is completely sure how to react, or how to interact with the other. The chasm between the couple only grows wider until an argument, and the temptation of an affair, causes each of them to reevaluate their relationship, then begin to face their loss together.
The closing scene is neither cheerful nor particularly dramatic, it is however deeply emotional. Through the course of the performance, Becca has been a stone wall, sometimes angry, sometimes quiet and distant, but always impenetrable. It isn't until Howie decides to make a change, and to reach out to Becca with this one small gesture, that we finally see a glimpse of Becca the woman emerge from Becca the grieving mother. The intimacy in that small moment was incredible, and quietly effective.
Moving on from devastating loss is a slow process, and the characters in "Rabbit Hole" resonate with real pain. In this production, each actor manages to bring forth a different, completely natural, reaction to the family's loss. For a play filled with such sadness, the characters provide our only redemption. This cast worked well together, resulting in well-developed, nuanced characters, and reminding us that there are no easy answers to loss, only choices that we make moving forward.
"Rabbit Hole" runs through March 17th at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves. For additional information or to make your reservation, please call 314-962-0876 or visit www.theatreguildwg.org.