IF YOU GO
What: Play about parents who lose their child in a car accident
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 23
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.com
Language: Multiple four-letter expletives and sensitive subject matter
Something else: Use the newer parking garage by the park, or the free valet by Truluck's instead of the garage behind the theater.
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
NAPLES — The Naples Players explore a "dying is easy, living is hard" philosophy in wrenching David Lindsay-Abaire play "Rabbit Hole," about a couple who loses their young child in a traffic accident. Carried along by a Pulitzer Prize-winning script and some great performances, the two hours of banter and bickering zip by. Dead child or not, this one should be a must-see.
"Rabbit Hole," written in 2005, examines grief and how people react to loss. Cynthia Nixon won a Tony Award for her role as grieving mother Becca; Nicole Kidman was nominated for an Oscar for the same part in the film adaptation, which will be out on DVD April 19. Florida Repertory Theatre produced a version in January 2007.
The show that emerges on the Tobye Studio set reveals a family in crisis. Becca (Denise Petersen) sees Danny everywhere, even in the "smudgy fingerprint on the doorjambs." Howie (Paul Graffy) seems like he's moved on, but he sneaks downstairs at night to watch old home movies. Mother Nat (Karen Smith Hill) compares this loss to that of her own son eleven years ago - and won't stop dispensing advice on "how to grieve." Sister Izzy (Victoria Diebler) gets into bar fights.
"Rabbit Hole" feels honest, real, emotional and vibrantly alive. Director John McKerrow throws all the plates into the air, starts them spinning in different directions and ever so delicately winds the show together. While some of the supporting performances need fine-tuning, the emotional tenor of the show successfully walks the tightrope between stilted schmaltz and wallowing in sorrow.
What "Rabbit Hole" does exceptionally well is to find the poignancy and sometimes unexpected humor in situations like a meltdown in the supermarket, packing up a child's bedroom or meeting the teenager (Johnathan Perez) who ran over a young boy who chased his dog into the street.
Graffy and Petersen's characters represent the yin and yang of grief - and that comes out on stage. Petersen underplays her Becca almost to the point of catatonia - which makes her outbursts at Howie's anger that much more powerful. Graffy plays Howie as petulant and lashing out at a Becca who he sees as not grieving enough. The contrast tries to show that there's no "correct" way to grieve.
Victoria Diebler nearly steals the show as free-spirited Izzy - who opens the night with a four-letter bedecked description of a bar fight where she decked her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend. Izzy gets the best snarky lines, even at her ruined birthday party, plus a snazzy pair of patterned tights that fit with her motorcycle babe style.
Jason Sherwood's towering two-story set reaches past the catwalks of the Tobye Studio. Notice the details - the bleak white, black and gray palette everywhere except Danny's room - a sign of the new emptiness in Becca and Howie's life. That theme repeats with a dozen or so empty glass containers scattered like statuary throughout the set, a nice touch.
"Rabbit Hole" tackles a stiff and difficult subject with grace and dignity. The show moves from scene to scene with a lightness that belies the subject matter and gives credit to the cast illustrating the topic. Look for Petersen's subtle work as Becca, Graffy's second-act meltdown and Diebler's antics as Izzy.
Credit Gayle Forman for that "dying is easy, living is hard" thing. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.