New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"Rabbit Hole"
Biltmore Theatre

"Does it ever go away, this feeling?"

"No – it changes, though – the weight of it. It’s what you have instead of your son – which is fine."

Simple one and two syllable words. Yet, in the context of "Rabbit Hole," David Lindsay-Abaire's sometimes wrenching, sometimes stillborn, always engrossing new drama, the words seem to be enough to comfort a grieving family.

Lindsay-Abaire, in his previous outings, has been anything but comforting and familiar. (His "Fuddy Mears" and "Kimberly Akimbo" both deal with abnormalities.) So "Rabbit Hole" would seem a stylistic departure, but there's a catch here, for the play reaches its peak in a surreal scene that goes as much into another realm as his earlier works.

On the surface, the new work details the aftermath of the death of Becca and Howie's four-year-old son Danny, run over when chasing the family dog into the street. Becca, played with tight-lipped austerity by Cynthia Nixon, turns cold and calculating, folding their son's clothes that she's preparing to give away with deliberate efficiency. Pulling into a shell gives her a perverse purpose.

Howie, on the other hand, is all at sea, completely alone with only a videotape of their son for remembrance. As John Slattery plays him, Howie is always on edge, a powder keg with a fuse he tries to keep from lighting.

Also in the mix is Becca's mother, Nat, played with acerbic bravado by Tyne Daly as a woman determined not to let go of her own sorrows. Her daughter and Becca's fecund sister, Izzy, is, in Mary Catherine Garrison’s hands, tough yet not unfeeling. Izzy's out-of-wedlock pregnancy contrasts with the sterility now pervading Becca and Howie's marriage.

But it's a fifth character, Jason, a seemingly peripheral fifth wheel, who gives the play depth beyond its movie-of-the-week slickness and terse dialogue. Guilt-ridden for having been the driver of the car that ran over Danny, he's come to apologize, to seek absolution. He’s written a story, a science fiction piece he'd like to dedicate to Danny, all about parallel universes called "rabbit holes," with their "never-ending stream of possibilities." Sitting hunched up in a corner of the couch, Jason can express sadness only by indirection and John Gallagher Jr. imbues the character with a quiet but withering intensity.

This scene between Becca and Jason is the play's most painful yet assuaging, giving dimension to the evening and lifting it beyond a picture of the various ways people mourn.

Under Daniel Sullivan's unerringly delicate direction, the play remains small in scope. It doesn't overtly pull at the heartstrings and it's not a tearjerker. Rather, it lets sorrow sink in slowly, going beyond blame, even beyond comfort, until emotions are released and the mind is free to seek its own solace.

-- David Rosenberg
Feb. 19, 2006

Sign up for our mailing list