IN REVIEW: Journey through ‘Rabbit Hole’ is worth the trip

How do you deal with loss? Not a small loss, but the greatest loss imaginable?


How do you deal with loss? Not a small loss, but the greatest loss imaginable?

This is the scenario presented in David Lindsay-Abaire’s play, “Rabbit Hole,” playing through this weekend at Whidbey Island Center of the Arts. The story takes place eight months after the accidental death of a young son and portrays the family’s struggle to deal with the grief, anger and its attempt to reconnect with each other and with life.

Not mired in sentiment, this play brings humor and insight to the healing process needed to make the family whole again.

The casting was perfect. The entire cast did an incredible job of making the story and their roles believable, carrying the audience along on the journey through their laughter and deepest sorrow. This production is one of the best in WICA’s repertoire.

The mother, Becca, played expertly by Patricia Duff, gives us a character who seems to be sustaining her life by continuing to cook the perfect crème caramel, packing away the no longer needed clothing of her deceased son, Danny, and attempting to guide her younger sister’s misguided life. She is sensible, direct and sophisticated.

Yet, beneath the surface, grief simmers and erupts in the most unexpected ways. Others tread carefully to keep the anger at bay, trying not to say the wrong thing, while Becca has no problem speaking her mind and keeping everyone straight about where they have erred. She is irritated at a good friend who no longer calls, is frustrated by the “poor you” look on people’s faces, the tone in their voices and wonders, “Will it ever get easier?”

Duff, always a delight to watch onstage, brings her depth of experience, confidence and command to any role, but this was a role made for her. She embodies Becca, makes her real, places us in her living room, in her discomfort and distress.

Becca’s younger sister, Izzy, played by Melissa McAlerney, lives a life spinning out of control with her youth and wild character.

Izzy provides the audience with lightness of humor and frivolity, while offering the family a keen, honest truth to help keep them on course. A steady keel comes from this most unexpected source, as Izzy keeps the audience laughing and brings the family a surprising gift. McAlerney also gifts the audience with her lively and entertaining performance. Only once did this reviewer wish this quick, energetic character would slow the lines just a bit.

Tom Harris, who plays Becca’s husband Howie, is a frequent player on the WICA stage. This role was no less than a home run for him. The emotions are palpable — the frustration, the knots of anger — yet still show the ease of life one knows this character once possessed.

Trying to bridge the gulf in his relationship with Becca, his frustration with her distance and his own grief to mend, Howie’s anger finally flares when he accuses her of trying to disperse all the memories of their son.

“You have to stop erasing him! You have to stop it, you have to stop!”

The audience did stop. The silence when the lights went down at the end of that scene could be cut; no one moved, so absorbed was the audience in the enormity of the moment.

The matron of the family, Becca and Izzy’s mother Nat, played by Jill Johnson, tries to help by using her wisdom. She lightens the air with silly notions, talks on and on, spinning her stories to make a point. Her attempts only add fire to an already boiling pot.

Johnson proves her worth in this challenging role, knowing when to be strong and when to be passive. She won over the audience with her comic yet deftly portrayed matronly character; won the audience’s heart and, eventually, Becca’s.

And then there is Jason, played by the young, yet capable actor, Max Cole-Takanikos. He is also no stranger to the stage, despite his youth, carrying the part like a pro.

Jason, a high school senior, faces his worst nightmare in an attempt to mend his own life. The audience could feel his shy awkwardness, his discomfort at facing such an overwhelming task. Jason writes his own science fiction story dedicated to the young Danny, in which he describes a rabbit hole as a place to find a parallel universe; perhaps a place where everything is normal.

Director Chris Fisher deserves applause for bringing this story to the stage with such realism. Her experience in theater spans many decades and cities, and is perhaps remembered most on South Whidbey for the musical “Charley Parkhurst,” which she co-wrote and directed.

The set design and costumes were flawless, supporting a great story, a superb cast and a play that goes to the top of the list for WICA. Do not miss this one, it is well worth the journey.

“Rabbit Hole” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25. Call 221-8268 for tickets; or Click here.