Could there be a different version of our lives playing out somewhere in another realm? When we are at our lowest, the possibility of falling into such an abyss feels strangely comforting. Rabbit Hole written by David Lindsay-Abaire, is onstage at Asheville Community Theatre through Sunday, Aug. 25.
While playing one day, 4-year-old Danny follows the family dog into the street and is struck by a passing vehicle. His mother, Becca (played by Courtney DeGennaro Robinson), quickly tries to clear her dead son’s belongings and sell the family’s once-beloved house. Her husband, Howie (Robert Walker), grows defensive, and it becomes clear that the couple are dealing with their loss in very different ways. Just as the distance starts to threaten their relationship, Jason Willette (Jon Morrison), the driver who killed Danny, walks right through their door.
Rabbit Hole is traditionally structured, anchoring itself on the characterizations of the grieving mother and father. From the onset, the story hides very little and the fact that Lindsay-Abaire’s play feels as if it’s missing something is to the advantage of the theme. However, from an artistic and psychological standpoint, what if we visited another realm with this family? Additional disarray would then take over our emotional comfort zone, and, for better or for worse, it would be a different play altogether.
In particular, the role of Becca has been defined by the Tony-winning performance of Cynthia Nixon, as well as the Oscar-nominated performance of Nicole Kidman in the 2010 film. By comparison, Robinson’s portrayal is rather calculated, and we lose a great deal of the story’s tremorous remorse. Similarly, Joann Johnson, who plays Becca’s edgy sister Izzy, feels stilted. Reassuringly, we do warm up to both Robinson and Johnson as the play continues.
It’s intriguing to see Howie’s perspective be highlighted so well in this version. Walker’s natural performance packs several gut punches that strike when truly necessary. Because Howie is played outside the actor’s head, the performance is extremely effective on an emotional level. Tears are sure to be shed.
The equally superb performance by CJ Breland as Becca’s mother, Nat, is also stirring. At first comedic, we later speculate if it’s a mere façade for the character’s loneliness. There’s a particularly touching scene between Robinson and Breland when they are sorting through Danny’s toys.
Morrison connects with the nervousness of Jason, who’s dealing with a different form of blame and regret. The title of this Pulitzer Prize-winning play suggests a story written by the character of Jason after the incident. Also, as in Alice in Wonderland, things aren’t always what they seem.
When going through grief, the human condition feels like living in a sustained nightmare or a mirage of what was once familiar. With a powerful spirit, director Stephanie Hickling Beckman urges us to summon the strength to reach for a better tomorrow.
WHAT: Rabbit Hole
WHERE: 35 E. Walnut St., Asheville, ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Aug. 25. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. $12-$26