The Architecture of Grief in Falcon’s Rabbit Hole
Posted On July 7, 2017
Review by Alan Jozwiak of Rabbit Hole: Falcon Theatre
This review is going to get personal.
A week before seeing Falcon Theater’s Rabbit Hole, a play dealing with a couple still in grief over the death of their son months after a senseless accident took his life, a close friend of my mother suddenly died. My mother didn’t find out about the death of her friend Bert (short for Bertha) until my mother went to church and heard from the pulpit that Bert had died in her sleep a few hours before the start of services.
My mother’s range of emotions in the days that led up Bert’s funeral was very akin to the emotions that Becca (Tara Williams) and Howie (Ted J. Weil) experience in Rabbit Hole: shock, denial, and a sense of numbness as she tried to figure out how to get back to a new normal.
This is the essence of Rabbit Hole. It explores how grieving people develop coping strategies to get them through the day. In the play, Becca goes about her household business, slowly erasing the memory of her son from their house through her cleaning, while Howie wants to cling onto his memories of the good times with his son by endlessly watching home movies.
The path that these people take is unique, since everyone grieves in their own different ways. For my mother, she ended up not going to Bert’s showing and she might not have made it to the funeral had I not arranged to have another of her friends take her to the funeral. For Williams and Weil, their performances beautifully and delicately carve out the unique ways that grief influences their everyday actions. I marveled at these two actors portraying the mundane through the spotlight of grief; it was powerful acting on both of their parts.
Williams brilliantly played Becca as a woman insistent on wanting to get everything perfect, down to serving the crème caramel the correct way. Similarly, Weil brilliantly portrays Howie as an everyman who acts so low key that the audience almost doesn’t realize some of his unmet needs until he erupts in anger at Becca.
After the funeral of Bert, my mother and her friend skipped the crowded after-funeral luncheon and went out to lunch by themselves where they tried to laugh and have a good time. Bert was someone who loved a good joke and loved to laugh. They felt that was the proper way to honor her memory. In Rabbit Hole, this need for laughter in the face of tears was played wonderfully by Katie Groneman as Izzy, the dizzy comedic younger sister of Becca.
One of the things that we often forget is that showings and funerals can be places of laughter. Groneman’s wonderful comic relief, while funny in itself, also acts like those jokes at a funeral—ways of releasing the tension to make the grief more bearable. The jokes that come from her do not belittle her, but she calls attention to the comedic within a situation and life in general.
Rounding out the ensemble are Cathy Roesener as Becca’s mother Nat, who lost her adult son years ago to a drug overdose, and Evan Blanton as Jason, the seventeen-year old who accidentally runs over Danny. Roesener beautifully expresses her concern as a mother who likes to compare Danny’s death to that of her son Arthur. Similarly, Blaton’s combination of awkward hesitancy and geekiness made his character sympathetic. In Rabbit Hole, there are no villains, only victims—and Blaton portrays Jason as one of the victims in this terrible situation.
Director Tracy M. Schoster does an outstanding job in directing this play. The most difficult task facing her is that the everyday conversational quality of the dialogue has to move and not become boring. She is deftly able to move her actors through the script, pacing things so that it does not drag or become boring. As a result of this attention to the pacing, I was more engaged by this play and could better appreciate what these characters were going through.
If there is one lesson to be learned from Rabbit Hole, it is that the architecture of grief is made up of the everyday and ordinary. It lives and breathes through the most ordinary of actions. I never realized how ordinary it could be until I was talking to a friend while writing this article. He told me that a year ago, he sat next to a woman during a flight back to Cincinnati who moments earlier had learned that her pregnant daughter had died. From what my friend told me about that experience, their “ordinary” conversation on the tarmac and in the air was transformative for both of them.
While we do not want to think about such senseless events, Rabbit Hole gives us a way to discuss how we go on after the unthinkable has happened. Rabbit Hole runs weekends March 24 to April 8, 2017 at their theater on 626 Monmouth Street in Newport, Kentucky. Visit the Falcon website for times and ticket information: http://falcontheater.net/