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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. It's 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 he's 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. She's all too comfortable speaking the language of prohibition and impossibility with her loved ones: what they can and can't refer to, what she won't discuss. "Don't do that," she tells her white-trashy sister Izzy (Mary Catherine Garrison) in the first scene, when Izzy tries to use Danny's death as an excuse for her own bad behavior. "I can't 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 daughter's unposted dos and don'ts: "I don't know your rules, Becca," she says after daring to compare her own son's untimely death to her grandson's.

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 isn't a scene or a tangent here that isn't resolutely on topic;
©2006 Joan Marcus
John Slattery & Cynthia Nixon in Rabbit Hole
everything, from Izzy's unplanned pregnancy to a suggestion that Howie's fidelity may have wavered, is packed tidily into the central theme, much as Danny's toys and clothes get divvied into boxes for safe keeping, for trash, or for charity. Even Daly's Nat, who gets nearly every ounce of the play's 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 Becca's grieving process along.

Though there's precious little garnish, the play's 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 can't 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 couple's Westchester home is rendered in one of John Lee Beatty's 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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