For its fifth performance in its 159th season, The Mask & Bauble Dramatic Society produced a tearjerker with David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Rabbit Hole.” Acted, directed and produced entirely by Georgetown students, the play is serious without being morose, touching without being overly sentimental and even humorous without being tawdry.
The action of the play takes place entirely within the home of Becca and Howie Corbett. It is eight months after the tragic and accidental death of their four-year-old son, Danny, who was hit by a car while chasing a dog across the street. Both Becca and Howie struggle to return their lives to “normal,” though they know life can never be normal again.
Suddenly the simplest task becomes the most difficult. In one scene, Becca recounts how upsetting it is for her to shop at the grocery store because the sight of Danny’s favorite foods pains her. Both are still heavily immersed in the mourning process but have trouble expressing their grief. Issues like whether or not to leave Danny’s drawings on the refrigerator or to convert Danny’s room into an office or guest bedroom divide the couple during the time when they need each other most.
Nat [Sarah Wilson (COL ’11)], Becca’s slightly eccentric mother, and Izzy [Francesca Pazniokas (COL ’11)], Becca’s wild-child sister, provide some much needed comic relief. However, their roles are not left undeveloped. Nat’s son Arthur, a heroin addict, died at age 30. As someone else who has lost a child, she tries to offer comfort to her daughter who resents it, believing that their cases are not at all comparable. Izzy has also just learned that she is pregnant. Her news provides a kind of ambiguous joy to the family that is still in the mourning period for Danny.
The subject matter of the play required the actors to reach an incredible level of emotional depth. I was curious as to how Sarah McMahon (COL ’12) and Matt Lai (COL ’11), who play Becca and Howie respectively, were able to portray these characters realistically and elicit empathy from the audience. “All of us have dealt with loss on some level,” says McMahon, “and you just bring that into your performance.” “Rabbit Hole” specifically deals with the death of a child, yet all audience members can relate on some level to what Becca and Howie endure.
Life is unpredictable and time is precious, but sometimes we never realize that until we lose the thing, or person, we love most. Constantly thinking about and reliving moments of loss took its toll on the actors. When I asked McMahon and Lai if they had trouble shaking off their characters after rehearsals, they both looked at each other knowingly before replying, “Yes.” This is a testament to the depth and realism of Lindsay-Abdaire, who writes and creates with incredible honesty and realism.
Although only first acted onstage in 2005, “Rabbit Hole” is hardly hidden. It has been produced in New York where Cynthia Nixon was awarded a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role as Becca. Further performances were staged in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Pittsburg. In 2010 it was made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. There were plenty of sources from which to draw inspiration or even mimic, but director Josh Sizer (COL ’12) wanted to bring something new to this production. “I was teleported when I first read the script,” he says. Sizer found the inner lives of the characters as fascinating as what they were actually saying and doing. “I thought other productions had focused mainly on the realism of the play,” he said. “I wanted to explore its surrealist side.” Sizer used several strategies to emphasize this facet of the play. Pieces of family photos hung at the back of the stage to represent the broken lives Becca and Howie now live. He also encouraged his actors to use the Pinteresque method of acting which utilizes silence in order to force the audience to look inside itself to realize that this play is not just for parents who have lost a child. Everyone can learn something about his life from this play.
There are so many messages that one can take away from the play that it is difficult to pinpoint just one. For Sizer, the play added value to the relationships he forms in life. The play helped Lai realize that during painful times there are many people to whom he can turn for support, and the message for McMahon was about the need to take time to heal. The messages in “Rabbit Hole” are diverse and contemplative without becoming overly philosophical. They truly represent the reality of life and the depth of the human soul.