Review: Rabbit Hole (Deelen with Trouble)

Rabbit Hole is an “astonishing” and “real” story about family loss, on stage in Toronto

Deelen with Trouble’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Rabbit Hole, currently playing at Red Sandcastle Theatre, is an astonishing piece of theatre. In it, a family deals with the loss of a child. Stated plainly, the premise sounds banal and depressing but this play is funny, intelligent and deeply moving without ever becoming trite or saccharine. 

Becca and Howie have recently lost their four-year-old son Danny, to an accident on the road in front of their house. Inside, his presence still lingers in artwork, bed sheets and abandoned toys. While grieving, their sex life has been neglected and their social sphere has shrunken significantly.

As Howie, Tyler McMaster does a fine job of conveying well-hidden anger and hurt. He comes off as exceptionally easy-going and attentive, but you can tell his mellow and patient attitude—while charming and sexy—is deliberate and purposeful.

Courtney Deelen’s Becca is, for the most part, calm and sensible. Even before her grief really starts to show, you can see that, just like her husband, she is working extremely hard to maintain her functional and pleasant persona.

As Becca’s younger sister, Izzy, Lindsey Middleton’s delivery is rapid and sassy, making her reckless and impulsive personality a lot of fun. She’s expecting a child of her own soon and, though she seems at first unsuited to parenthood, you can make out the nuanced changes in her behaviour as she adapts to a future of responsibility.

Rhea Akler is pain-in-the-guts funny as Becca’s loud and boisterous mother. Her intentions are pure-hearted, but she’s undoubtably intrusive in her constant attempts to instruct Becca on how best to grieve. Having suffered the loss of her own child years before, she does have valuable insights. In a later scene, when Becca asks if “this feeling ever goes away,” her response is, for me, one of the most moving moments in the play.

And then there is Jason, the teenage driver of the car that killed Danny. He’s an aspiring writer who wants desperately to connect with the grieving couple. There is a scene between him and Becca that really impressed me with its maturity and understatement.

In that scene, Jason manages to say so many uncomfortable things. He’s too young, self-absorbed and eager to please to notice it. And yet, to my delight and surprise, Becca takes it all in perfect stride. You can tell there are moments when awful emotions threaten to darken their brief connection, but she never let’s him know that and makes an effort to ensure that the encounter is satisfying for both of them.

Nathan Taylor gives off a vibe of authentic compassion and sensitivity that makes some of his more socially awkward talking points seem sweet rather than irritating.

In hindsight, something that really struck me about this play is that it features characters successfully dealing with their shit. Don’t get me wrong, there are tears and shouting, but this story isn’t about dysfunction; it is about the painful struggle to function reasonably well in the face of pain. Rabbit Hole shows us the emotional cost of keeping it together.

I’ve seen several productions directed by Sophie Ann Rooney and every time I’ve been captivated from start to finish. The environments are always simple, yet full of resonant and revealing details. The performances always riveting and achingly truthful. In her hands, Rabbit Hole is fluid and engaging throughout, and all of the intense bits feel earned and authentic.

Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid was voiced by my guest. As we were leaving the theatre, she said: “It felt like it was really happening.” And that is how great theatre is supposed to feel.

Do not miss this production.

Details:

  • Rabbit Hole is playing until February 11, 2017 at the Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen Street East).
  • Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm
  • Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online

Image provided by the company.

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