Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rabbit Hole is darker and deeper than advertised

Rabbit Hole
Manbites Dog Theater
After great pain, a formal feeling

Through Dec. 22

(Left to right) Marcia Edmundson, Derrick Ivey and Katja Hill in Rabbit Hole
Photo by Alan Dehmer
We can understand why Rabbit Hole won this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama. Much like the Orphean myth alluded to in one of its closing sequences, the play follows a married couple, Becca and Howie, through the emotional underworld of grief, some eight months after the accidental death of their small child, Danny.

The veritas of their icy, brittle exchanges, with mooky or boorish relatives and each other, convincingly conveys the formal feeling that Emily Dickinson once wrote of as coming after death; a dynamic that artistic director Jeff Storer fully explores in this Manbites Dog Theater production with noted actors Katja Hill and Derrick Ivey. All in all, these qualities make this a show worthy of superlatives—but one also requiring a consumers' advisory as well along the way.

By now, regional theater-goers have come to associate playwright David Lindsay-Abaire with a series of screwball comedies, largely predicated on medical quirks or psychological disabilities. In Manbites Dog's rewarding 2001 production of Fuddy Meers, the playwright found improbably appealing slapstick in characters with aphasia and psychogenic amnesia while, a couple of years after, Actors Comedy Lab's Wonder of the World hinged on an outlandish sexual dysfunction or two. Though Kimberly Akimbo has not been produced locally, its world premiere during the 2000 National Critics Institute completely disarmed an audience of hard-nosed theater insiders as it explored the dysfunctions of a family dealing with a daughter with progeria, the accelerated aging disease. Need we note that none of these situations provides the most easily minable terrain for comedy?