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Rabbit Hole
by Rob Kendt

©2006 Joan Marcus
Tyne Daly & Cynthia Nixon
in Rabbit Hole
On its own whimpering terms, the domestic drama Rabbit Hole is a disappointment, tracing about half a stage of grief in a young would-be soccer mom whose four year old was killed by a passing motorist. But as the newest offering, and the Broadway debut, of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who in Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo mapped a world of outsized suburban dysfunction with paradoxically sunny, funny strokes, Rabbit Hole must be counted a major letdown. Its a bit like witnessing South Park drop its ironic mask for a "very special episode." While no one should begrudge Lindsay-Abaire the chance to defy expectations, or to stretch out beyond disability shtick and willful quirkiness before they harden into mannerisms, with Rabbit Hole hes tumbled into all the traps of mature, tasteful, Daniel Sullivan-directed theater.

At the still, stubborn center of the play is Becca (Cynthia Nixon), who tends her grief over her son Danny like a secret garden with an electrified fence and restrictive visiting hours. Shes all too comfortable speaking the language of prohibition and impossibility with her loved ones: what they can and cant refer to, what she wont discuss. "Dont do that," she tells her white-trashy sister Izzy (Mary Catherine Garrison) in the first scene, when Izzy tries to use Dannys death as an excuse for her own bad behavior. "I cant have that talk," she tells her well-meaning husband Howie (John Slattery) when he suggests they have another child, or at least some marital nookie. Finally, in case we missed the point, her brassy mom Nat (Tyne Daly) tentatively broaches the subject of her daughters unposted dos and donts: "I dont know your rules, Becca," she says after daring to compare her own sons untimely death to her grandsons.

Story continues below

This is all too neat, this family portrait in shades of mourning, undistracted by the relief of laughter or the promise of surprise. There isnt a scene or a tangent here that isnt resolutely on topic;
©2006 Joan Marcus
John Slattery & Cynthia Nixon in Rabbit Hole
everything, from Izzys unplanned pregnancy to a suggestion that Howies fidelity may have wavered, is packed tidily into the central theme, much as Dannys toys and clothes get divvied into boxes for safe keeping, for trash, or for charity. Even Dalys Nat, who gets nearly every ounce of the plays meager comic juice, is little more than a mouthpiece for inappropriate ramblings that, natch, have a moral kicker for Becca. And an awkward sit-down with the nerdy, repentant teen (John Gallagher Jr.) whose car hit Danny yields few dramatic dividends except to nudge Beccas grieving process along.

Though theres precious little garnish, the plays main course is a series of painful marital accountings between Becca and Howie, made all the tougher by their irresolution, as one spouse or the other keeps exiting the scene before things are settled. This stop-start discord has the ring of uncomfortable truth for any well-worn married couple, and it is played with expert, bristling sensitivity by Nixon and Slattery. But we cant help feeling that it amounts to little more than an illustration of the obvious: that losing a child can be the ultimate deal breaker for his parents.

The couples Westchester home is rendered in one of John Lee Beattys typically sumptuous sets--a rotating, interlocking lazy Susan of choice real estate, which uses offstage space with eerie verisimilitude and gives the production its only sense of proportion. With the monotonous Rabbit Hole, Lindsay-Abaire certainly seems to have lost his.

Rabbit Hole
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Biltmore Theatre

Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 2/2/2006 11:21:00 PM


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