A pattern of accidents seems to be emerging in serious dramas. This fall sees a trend of stories about adults mourning children in fatal car crashes, such as the upcoming films Reservation Road and Bella and 2007's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole, now running at Theatre in the Square. Perhaps writers gravitate to the subject because the death of a child touches on the most wrenching emotions, and one involving relatively mundane circumstances can throw the meaning of life into question.
Theatre in the Square's moving but at times muted production begins with some lighthearted misdirection, as uncouth Izzy (Kate Donadio) tells a raucous bar-fight story to her more settled sister Becca (Antonia Fairchild). Then conversation chances to take a serious turn, and we piece together that Becca and her husband Howie (Charles Horton) lost their 4-year-old son.
Though eight months have passed since the accident, Becca's grief remains agonizingly fresh, and Izzy's announcement of an unplanned pregnancy seems to exacerbate her misery. Then again, for Becca, practically anything can rub salt in the wound – the supermarket, other families' children, every corner of the home where they raised the boy. It seems as though she'll never be "better."
In his earlier work, David Lindsay-Abaire invariably found black comedy in such trauma as short-term memory loss or rapid-aging syndrome (in Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo, respectively). Although Izzy provides obvious comic relief (particularly in Donadio's brassy performance), otherwise the only laughter in Rabbit Hole is the nervous kind. Perhaps the playwright's drastic change of pace helped secure him the Pulitzer, since some of the thematic machinations prove surprisingly clunky, like the heavy-handed references to the myth of Orpheus and the definition of "hubris" in Greek tragedy.
Director Susan Reid presents the material with delicacy and tenderness, but Fairchild's performance inhibits the strength of the production. Certainly the character is meant to be withdrawn and alienated, but Fairchild internalizes Becca's feelings to the point that little more than a one-note testiness comes across. In the second act, when Becca has a conversation with the teenager (Matthew Judd) who drove the fateful car, Fairchild movingly conveys a long-contained emotional release. Taking material that could feel cheaply manipulative, Rabbit Hole closes with a quiet epiphany that finds the truth in a common tragedy.
Rabbit Hole. Through Nov. 11. $18-$27. Tues., Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7 p.m. Theatre in the Square, 11 Whitlock Ave., Marietta. 770-422-8369. www.theatreinthesquare.com.
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