“Rabbit” knows no bildungsroman

“Rabbit Hole,” the senior project in theater studies for Maia Collier ’11, offers a display of tragic emotion — but few surprises.

The first act opens with two women in a kitchen, performing seemingly everyday tasks. Izzy (Sarah Matthes ’13) pours a glass of orange juice as she describes her latest night out to her older sister Becca (Collier), who is tranquilly folding clothes. But the tension in their relationship becomes apparent when Izzy breaks the news that she is pregnant.

An emotional scene near the end of the play Rabbit Hole.
An emotional scene near the end of the play Rabbit Hole.

Izzy’s pregnancy sets the stage for the play’s central issue — the relationship between parents and children. “Rabbit Hole” reveals the subsequent emotional strain through scenes between the girls and their mother, Nat (Lizzie Donger ’12), through Izzy herself, and most dramatically through Becca and her husband Howie’s (Colin Murphy ’11) grief over the recent death of their 4-year-old son.

While “Rabbit Hole” takes on large issues that have the potential to reveal the capacity of the actors, the play is disappointing in its lack of emotional variation. Each character seems to represent a distinct type, and once these paradigms are revealed, the actors adhere their stereotypes for most of the play.

The play’s abrupt ending only adds to its blandness. While the characters do branch out from their stock positions after the story’s resolution, this moment occurs so near the end that almost no time is devoted to developing these new facets.

The monotony of the characters is somewhat redeemed by the remarkable skill with which they are presented. The actors merge so seamlessly with their characters’ personality quirks that they are able to truly capture the essence of how each has been affected by the problems in their lives. Despite the tragic nature of the work, I still found myself laughing at times. The well-incorporated idiosyncrasies underscore the talents of the actors.

These surprisingly humorous moments extend beyond the characters to the simple absurdity of a few scenes, which offer a lighter look at some of the play’s deeper issues. In the second half of the play, Becca delves into a sad account of a scene witnessed at the grocery store: A mother ignores her son as he asks her to buy him Fruit Roll-Ups. After the play’s emphasis on the love and attention all mothers have for their sons, this displays even further the tension between Izzy and Becca as seen through Becca’s criticism of Izzy’s lifestyle and non-maternal habits. Becca suddenly declares that she slapped the woman in anger, an action so at odds with Becca’s prim demeanor. It is moments like these that add doses of laughter needed to punctuate these heavy scenes.

Though the script of “Rabbit Hole” offers few opportunities for the actors to display the diversity of their talents, the cast does an outstanding job working with the script to convey the story’s emotional lows and highs — even though they are few and far between.

“Rabbit Hole,” directed by Amy Rosenblum ’12 and produced by Lily Lamb-Atkinson ’12, is playing at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Whitney Theater in the Whitney Humanities Center.

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