Review: Fear Not the Darkness in "Rabbit Hole"

Syracuse University's Black Box Players Stage a Poignant Treatment of the Grieving Process

People, by nature, have an aversion to the darkness.  Be that as it may, our lives are equal parts night and day, both literally and figuratively, and it becomes essential to our survival to reconcile ourselves with those darker times.  Such reconciliation is the goal of the Black Box Player’s production of “Rabbit Hole.”

This David Lindsey-Abaire play is a snapshot of a family grieving the loss of a loved one.  Becca (Jessica Bues) and Howie (Matthew Tolstoy) lost their four-year-old son eight months ago when he was struck by a car while chasing his dog into the street.  Becca’s pushy mother Nat (Rachel Baker) and zany sister Izzy (Emily Robinson) offer what they can in the way of support, but of course, they can’t offer the couple the only thing they want:  their son. 

There are no twists or surprises in the plot.  Even the appearance of the driver who struck little Danny, high schooler Jason (Charlo Kirk), at the doorstep is expected.  But rather than being weak because it is so predictable, this play is strong because it is so familiar.  Everyone has lost a loved one.  For many, the emotions of the mourning process are still so palpable that just watching others mourn, even if they are fictional, can bring them surging back to the surface. 

David-Julian Melendez prepared his cast well to deal with these difficult emotions in varied yet always truthful ways.  Bues was at times stoic, at times demonstrative as a young mother worn by sorrow.  As her husband, Tolstoy offered her a strong shoulder to cry on but still reminded the audience that men need to grieve, too.  In consoling her daughter, Baker skillfully toed the fine line between helpful and prodding with which so many concerned mothers are familiar.  The younger members of the cast, Robinson and Kirk, occasionally looked awkward in their attempts to wrestle with the weighty subject matter, resorting to comic caricature and clumsy cuteness, respectively.  Yet, they should still be applauded for never backing down from the material. 

The Black Box Players, a group of Syracuse University students, should likewise be praised for having the courage to tackle this work.  Yes, there were shaky doors and shoddy flats in this production, but had they been better, they would have added little more than garnish to the filling fare already served up.

Too rarely do people go to the theater to be made uncomfortable for two hours by the resonance of a production. This “Rabbit Hole” reminded me why they should.

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