The Chance Theater's 'Rabbit Hole' Is a Liberating Dose of Reality

Rabbit Hole is a liberating dose of reality

First, what Rabbit Hole, David Lindsay-Abaire's 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning play receiving its Orange County premiere at the Chance Theater, isn't:

Epic. Adventurous. Inventive. Revelatory. Timely. Or particularly witty, deep, smartly written, even original.

What it is: a profoundly moving, emotionally arresting play that, in the highly capable hands of director Oanh Nguyen and his five-person cast, ranks among the most riveting pieces of theater to grace a local stage in years.

And what's astonishing is how unappealing it comes off at first. It's a two-hour-and-15-minute kitchen-sink reality play about a couple painfully trying to grapple with the death of their 5-year-old son.

Grand Theft Auto 4 it ain't.

Equally remarkable is that it sprang from the fingertips of Lindsay-Abaire. The New York-based playwright has been on the national theater radar for a decade. But his two biggest plays, Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo, both of which have received Orange County productions, felt disjointed. Though each featured characters in serious mental and physical crises, any potential resonance was diluted by a pervasive strain of Christopher Durang-like looniness.

Though entertaining, the oddball eccentricities made each play difficult to take seriously, almost as if Lindsay-Abaire didn't think it was hip to write a serious play, so he had to pepper the proceedings with quirky misfits, such as the viciously caustic hand puppet wielded by the misfit in Fuddy Meers, or a wannabe subversive who steals mailboxes in Kimberly Akimbo.

Rabbit Hole scuttles the sarcasm and abandons the absurd, focusing solely on very real people in very real situations dealing—or not dealing—with very real emotions.

Those people are Becca (an impeccable Jennifer Ruckman, who walks a precarious line between obsessive control freak and simmering emotional volcano), a former career-oriented woman turned stay-at-home mother, and her husband, Howie (an equally stellar and believable Jonathon Lamer).

The play—set 10 months after the death of their son, Davey, who was struck and killed by a car driven by a teenager—begins with Becca's likeable fuck-up of a sister, Izzy (a feisty Alex Bueno), recalling a bar scrum she'd gotten into the night before. But, like nearly everything in Rabbit Hole, what's truly important percolates beneath the surface: The story is Izzy's backhanded way of letting her sister know she's pregnant.

The announcement is the catalyst that finally forces Becca and Howie into dealing with their loss. It's not that they've been hiding from their son's death: Davey's bedroom remains intact, and a video of him shot shortly before his death is constantly in the VCR.

But both are stuck in their respective grieving ruts, and though each seems to be handling it as well as one could expect, they are both scared shitless about the most difficult part of the process: truly accepting Davey's death. Just as his life largely identified them for five years, his death now defines them. And as Rabbit Hole unwinds in its deceivingly simple pattern, we realize their inability to move on is also what keeps them from unraveling.

What's most refreshing about Lindsay-Abaire's play is its lack of device, both in terms of plot twists and dramaturgical hocus pocus. There are no skeletons lurking in the closet; no lightning bolts hit the stage and expose some dark secret or awful, ugly truth. Nor does the play ever embark on soaring flights of poetic fancy or eloquently worded monologues that link the pain of this couple to some greater universal truth of human mortality and the fragility of existence.

It's all very simple: People are in pain. To get through it will mean even more pain. And there's no guarantee of making it through intact.

Not the most inspiring of rally cries, but in a time when so much theater (and so much popular culture) is so much bullshit, it's positively liberating to get a dose of reality.

Rabbit Hole at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 777-3033; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through June 8. $22-$25.

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