Jonathan J. Miner
Jessica Jane Witham and Jess Evans-Grimm in Strollers Theatre's Rabbit Hole.
It can be dicey for a community theater group to do a play that's already had a Hollywood adaptation with A-list stars. Rabbit Hole, David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer-winning drama about the aftershocks of a young boy's death, hit movie theaters just last year with stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart.
Here's the thing, though: I actually found the Strollers Theatre production more satisfying than the Kidman film. Despite a great cast, the movie was wan and dull. Though Strollers' staging may be imperfect, it's got more life pulsing through its veins. And while I'm not really a fan of the Evjue Stage (the smaller of the Bartell's two spaces), its intimate confines are well-suited to the intensely personal struggles of Becca and Howie, the grieving parents. Rabbit Hole works better on stage than screen.
Strollers' production is anchored by Jessica Jane Witham's sharp, compelling performance as Becca. Though we obviously feel sympathetic toward her plight, the playwright has the guts to make Becca herself not completely sympathetic.
We see this most clearly in Becca's interactions with her immature sister, Izzy. Impulsive, pregnant and recently canned from Applebee's, Izzy draws out Becca's prim, judgmental side. For Izzy's birthday, Becca gives her a bathroom set, not because it's something Izzy would actually want, but because Becca disapproves of how Izzy lives.
Witham plays Becca pretty angry -- but then again, Becca's got a lot to be angry about: the accidental death of her 4-year-old, her daffy mother's sometimes insensitive blathering, the inability of friends to acknowledge her loss.
Yet Becca's anger and grief threaten to drown her marriage to Howie (Patrick O'Hara, striking just the right regular-guy vibe). While Howie still goes to work and plays squash, he's immersed in grief, too, but also trying to seek a way forward.
Witham and O'Hara are solid, capable performers who do justice to Lindsay-Abaire's script, which is both insightful and true to the way people actually talk. In a small but crucial supporting role, Michael Andersen (as Jason, the teenage boy who accidentally hit and killed young Danny while driving) conveys awkwardness and sincerity. He's the one person who draws out Becca's tenderness; she doesn't blame him and he's the only one who sees her grief but doesn't tell her how to manage it.
As Izzy and Nat, Becca's sister and mother, Jess Evans Grimm and Marcy Weiland offer the play's main comic relief (though, as we learn, Nat still nurses pain of her own). At times, they're a little too goofy, but still a necessary bit of leavening between the play's darker moments.
Even if you've seen the film, Strollers' Rabbit Hole is worth your time. Directed by Casey Sean Grimm, this is a thoughtful, engaging production of a meaty contemporary play.