During intermission of Yellowstone Repertory Theatre’s season opener “Rabbit Hole,” a woman visiting the concession stand asked for a tissue and then took the whole box.
It’s that kind of play.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is a deep examination of grief, told with such plainness and authentically — and, oddly, whooping humor — that you’ll never pat a mourner’s hand the same way again.
Grief can be a strange drug, affecting people differently. It can alter personalities, grind relationships, and swallow lives. And, if the grief is not yours, it can be agonizing to witness and perilous to respond to.
Grief can also, eventually, lift and clarify, and bind people together.
Yellowstone Rep opens its third season demonstrating definitively the professional troupe’s mission isn’t just to challenge themselves and their audiences, but also to assume their audiences are smart and can take being challenged.
The play opens with Becca, a 30-something career climber who has surrendered her New York City art executive job to be a stay-at-home mom in the suburbs. She sits on the couch mechanically folding laundry, the small laundry of her 4-year-old son Danny who we soon learn was killed accidentally eight months earlier by a teen driver.
The death of a child can be a tired plot trope, a staple of Hallmark Channel redemption narratives and mindless revenge films. And, there are some clichés here. Becca’s husband, Howie, sits numbly in the dark watching videos of Danny. Izzy, Becca’s younger sister, tries to patch things up with relentless cheeriness. And there’s much anguished clutching of Danny’s left-behind stuffed animals.
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But, it’s the precision and authenticity of the writing that keeps the clichés and emotionally-loaded content from teetering into pandering.
When Becca and Howie argue in the kitchen, each twisting the other’s well-intended words into insult, it’s the argument every couple has had. And when Becca shrieks at being consoled by a well-meaning neighbor saying “God just needed another angel,” it’s the kind of unguessable trap every comforter has stepped into.
Most of all it’s this cast’s commanding and nuanced acting. The power isn’t in Becca’s inevitable cleaning out of Danny’s room, it’s in the way Casidee Riley Corcoran's face falls when the job is done. Corcoran somehow spends much of the play seemingly on the verge of tears or collapse. It’s a marvel to watch her control, and by the end her emotional exhaustion is yours. And, the hurt isn’t in Howie’s video loops of the laughing Danny, it’s in Chas Llewellyn’s hollow stare.
And, nothing hurts like the long silences the cast lets hang unbearably in the air when there is nothing more to say.
“Rabbit Hole” also features Billie Parrott as Izzy, Elizabeth Barber Alexander as the mother, Nat, and Jalani Lee as the sweet teen driver who accidentally kills Danny.
Glenda Brauneis designed the costuming, which features many subtle but revealing touches. Howie wears cartoonish dinosaur socks that Danny undoubtedly loved. Becca spends the play hiding out in shapeless sweaters and sweatshirts. And, when her mother appears in a purple velour hooded track suit, it’s all you need to know about her.
The play is directed by Craig Huisenga and performed in the intimate Black Box at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts and continues Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m., with a Thursday performance on Nov. 7 that is free to students with a student ID and includes a post-show discussion with the cast. Two Sunday matinees take place on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 at 2 p.m.
Ticket are $25 for adults and $15 for students. Discounts are available for groups of 8 or more, or student groups of 10 or more. Purchase tickets by phone at 1-800-838-3006, at the door, or online at www.YellowstoneRep.org.