SOUTH BEND — A drama that looks at the most heart-wrenching tragedy that can befall a family is the current production of South Bend Civic Theatre. “Rabbit Hole,” the 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner by David Lindsay-Abaire, focuses on four months in the lives of Becca and Howie, a young couple still reeling from the death eight months earlier of their four-year-old son Danny; of Becca’s sister Izzy and mother Nat and of Jason, the teenage driver responsible for Danny’s death.
Each is dealing with the loss in his/her own way. For Becca, this means holding on to her emotions and systematically getting rid of reminders of their son: clothes, toys and “stuff” to charity or to Izzy, unmarried but expecting her own child; Danny’s dog to Nat; and selling their house. Conversely, Howie wants the “stuff,” he wants the dog back and is angered by Becca’s actions, which he looks on as “trying to get rid of Danny.” His attempts “to make things nice,” including a return to intimate relations, is met by his wife’s stoic declaration that “Things will never be ‘nice’.” He agrees to put the house on the market but grieves alone watching a home video of his son. His anger finally erupts when he discovers Becca has recorded over the video.
Their lives have become a series of strained silences and awkward exchanges. The tension is not eased by Izzy’s pregnancy with her musician boyfriend and her belief that her baby will make her mature, or boozy Nat’s raucous and mostly inappropriate humor. Jason attempts to apologize and gives Becca his short science fiction story describing the theory of rabbit holes in the cosmos leading to another version of life in a parallel universe.
In the end, Becca and Howie are still uncertain about their future but he assures her “I think we will figure it out.”
Figuring it out is what “Rabbit Hole”is about, and each of the protagonists has his/her own way of coping with unthinkable tragedy. There is humor — albeit it frequently dark — throughout the SBCT production, most of it generated by Crystal Ryan’s Izzy, who creates a very empathetic and most believable character. As Becca, Nicole Brinkman Reeves is appropriately emotionally void and SBCT veteran Michael Coffee struggles admirably with support for his wife and his own pain, although the backwoodsman-style beard seems at odds with the upscale Larchmont, N.Y. locale. Chester Shepherd’s Jason is another low-key character and his final interaction with Becca is primarily one long, unaffecting silence after another. As played by Mary Toll, Nat is an incredibly annoying caricature. The set designed by David Chudszynski and director Doug Streich, utilized the space in the Warner Studio Theater well but the costumes were, at best, unflattering. I have to say I went prepared to get out my handkerchief, which seemed only appropriate given the premise of “Rabbit Hole,” Unfortunately, it never left my purse.
“Rabbit Hole” plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre in the theater at 403 N. Main St. South Bend. For tickets and performance times call (574) 231-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.’Ra bbit