Theater Review: Jobsite's Rabbit Hole

But the wound won't heal that easily: Becca's not ready to continue their sex life, can't bear her support group any longer (they know their own traumas, not hers, she says), and even strikes a woman in a grocery who's ignoring her little boy's pleas for fruit roll-ups. Trying to distract her from her grief is her sister Izzy, a mercurial, unmarried mother-to-be, and her mother Nat, who just can't stop chattering about other people who lost children, from Rose Kennedy to Aristotle Onassis.

And then there's Jason, the adolescent short-story writer who, through no fault of his own, hit Danny one terrible afternoon, and who believes in parallel universes where all this suffering isn't taking place. The play presents these five characters and the grief they're all working through not to provide any solutions but just to show realistically the look and feel of their difficult journey. That's also the play's weakness: in order to be honest, it can't deliver more than a little progress, so where we are at the final curtain isn't very far from where we started. But even with this limit, Rabbit Hole is original, beautifully written, and, above all, convincing. There's even some comedy of a natural and appropriate type.

The acting by the Jobsite troupe is mostly superb. As Becca, Meg Heimstead gives a riveting performance: this is a woman who has sustained an enormous blow, and who's still reeling from the shock. I've seen Heimstand on stage several times, but I think this is her best performance ever: she carries her sadness not just in her face but in her whole body, as if there's no part of her that's not dazed and just getting by on a sort of emergency generator.

As her husband, Chris Rutherford is nearly perfect: better-defended than his wife from the agony of Danny's death, he's still capable of losing his equilibrium under the wrong circumstances — as when Jason, the boy's teenaged, inadvertent killer, shows up unannounced at his home. Rutherford's Howie is an eminently sensible man who, like it or not, is dominated by his wife, and who's entirely at a loss as to how to guide her back to health. He doesn't get much help from Katrina Stevenson's skillfully impersonated Izzy, a basically narcissistic and flippant woman not about to be drawn into anyone's bad day.

And Brent Reams as young Jason is achingly credible as a tongue-tied, socially clumsy nerd who hates himself for what he's done even while knowing he never intended it. The only actor who doesn't quite fit in this ensemble is Diana Rogers as Becca's garrulous mother Nat - she seems too conscious of her comic presence, plays too much to the audience and not enough to the other characters.

But Brian Smallheer's modern set, featuring Danny's empty bedroom as well as the living room and kitchen where most of the action transpires, is ironically bright, and Stevenson's costumes would be appropriate in any middle-class home. As usual, Karla Hartley's inspired lighting exposes the emotional truth of each scene.

And the truth is beautiful, even when it's about a recalcitrant grief. A play like Rabbit Hole belongs in the same category as a Dürer engraving: human life seen up close, startlingly real. No, the subject isn't a happy one, the story isn't upbeat. That shouldn't matter. In Lindsay-Abaire's hands, it offers all the pleasures of art.


Rabbit Hole

Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa, 813-229-STAR

Runs through June 21

8 p.m Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays


David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole is a carefully observed, lovingly detailed study of the effect of a child's death on his family and others near to him. If the subject sounds too somber to make an enjoyable drama, let me assure you that the current Jobsite Theater production is poignantly engaging.

Compassionately directed by Paul Potenza, it introduces us to four of the infant's family members - his parents, aunt and grandmother - as well to the teenaged driver who hit and killed him while swerving to avoid his dog. All these persons have been shattered by the death of four-year-old Danny, though his mother Becca is having the hardest time recovering.

Everything reminds her of her lost son, and as the play progresses she tries to rid herself of all objects that bring him, painfully, to mind: his clothes, his toys, his dog, even her own house. Opposing her to a degree is her husband Howie, who positively wants the reminders, and who's ready, eight months after the tragedy, to resume something like a normal existence.

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