Tonight, I walked into a place that I haven’t been inside of in a very long time. I was at the Merrick Theatre and Center for the Arts here on Long Island, to see one of my friends of almost two decades in a play called Rabbit Hole. Just walking into the theatre sent me back in time. The theatre hasn’t changed all that much since I did Man of La Mancha there over a decade ago. And it didn’t hurt knowing I’d see my friend Alexandra, whom I hadn’t seen in some time either. I felt like I had walked into a time warp and just as much as the theatre hadn’t really changed, I hadn’t changed either, not really. My life is still shrouded in music and theatre (well, and musical theatre). Once I walked through those doors, it felt like work wasn’t stopping me from going back into it again. (I only wish it wasn’t stopping me in reality!)
It was like, as soon as I stepped foot into the building, the air was fresh around me and I was ready to jump back on that stage, and really on ANY stage.
But this isn’t about me, this isn’t about my love of theatre or even my memories about Man of La Mancha. This is about Rabbit Hole.
Rabbit Hole is a straight play about a very delicate topic: the death of a child. In this case, it’s an accidental death of a child who chased the family dog into the street and was hit by a car driven by a high school student. We never see the child, Danny, but through the five cast members (his parents, his aunt, his grandmother and the boy who hit him) we get to learn all about him and we wish we could have met him.
The five characters in the play signify the five levels of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Each character at any point within this play has hit most, if not all of the five levels. This goes to show that grief doesn’t show the same way in every person, and every person’s grief and what gets them through it, is different. It shows that each of them are humans, and despite their loss, there are many emotions rushing through them all at once.
To Becca (played by Laurie Slattery), Danny’s mother, eight months have passed since her son was killed. Still, she can’t deal with her grief, and she has become a very different person than who she was before Danny’s death. She is judgemental, rude, and depressed, and it’s clear to everyone who loves her that this is going on. She can run the gamut of feelings in a matter of moments (which Laurie does SO well!), and her feelings cause her to slap someone at a supermarket when she sees the other woman ignoring her child.
Becca isn’t alone at the supermarket though. Her mother Nat (played by Jocelyn Weston) is with her, and is the one who tells on Becca and makes it known the police were almost called. However, this doesn’t mean Nat is okay in any way, shape or form, as it becomes known that Nat herself (through Jocelyn’s telling and emotions) had lost a son as well (Becca and Izzy’s brother). She lost him as an adult, but she lost him nonetheless. Her son is someone who she continues to compare Danny to, and although Nat is in pain about Danny, her focus is still on her pain from her own son’s death (through suicide). This causes a number of problems with Becca, but it actually leads to how the pair finally find a place where they can find solace in each other in the end.
Howie, Becca’s husband (played by Michael J. Shanahan), misses his son so desperately that he looks everywhere he can to find the memories of his son that Becca keeps trying to hide. He looks to grief groups and friends, but despite thinking he’s found a place where he can be real and talk about how he truly feels, he realizes he doesn’t have it unless he’s with his own family. Ultimately, while Becca looks like she’s going to break down, the one who breaks down is Howie! (This is a scene that had most of the audience crying. Michael shows considerable pain through Howie as he watches old family videos and realizes the second time he tries to watch it, that his favorite video was taped over!)
And then there’s Jason (played by Salvatore Casto), the high schooler who accidentally hit Danny with his car going down the street (possibly a little faster than he should have been going, as he mentioned to Becca when she finally met with him). Jason very clearly feels horrible about what he’s done, and it isn’t just because his mother continuously berates him about what he’d done either; it’s because he genuinely feels horrible and likely won’t EVER forget about little Danny (you can tell when you hear his words and see the look on Salvatore’s face on that stage). In fact, he even wrote a story that he dedicates (with Becca and Howie’s permission) to Danny! Sal’s eyes show through here, and from where I was sitting in the second row, I could see the pain Sal felt just by playing Jason!
On the other hand, Izzy (played by Alexandra Thomas), Danny’s aunt, Becca’s sister and Nat’s daughter, has had a rough past even before Danny’s death. In the first scene we see Izzy talking to Becca, telling her a story about how she was in a bar fight and how she was pregnant. This messes with both Becca and Izzy, because they lost Danny only eight months before.
Izzy is not only the comic relief, but she reads to me as the most real of the bunch. You can see in Alex’s eyes (Alex happens to be my friend) that there’s more than just what’s being shown to us in the audience when it comes to Izzy. You see there’s MUCH more story there, and that though she isn’t saying how upset Danny’s death made her feel and how afraid she is to be a mother herself, she knows this is what will help her family survive and thrive into the future. She knows she can be a good mother, and Izzy knows that her baby is what will change her whole family—despite grief never taking a holiday, it DOES allow love and the changes of new life to follow the pains of grief.
Families are there for each other through thick and thin—despite arguments, despite believing different things, despite each person’s pains or happy moments, and this play shows that marvelously. Besides the play’s message, I enjoyed how the cast both looked and clearly FELT like family with each other; it made everything so much better! Despite not being blood relatives, you can tell that the cast is close-knit, and if anything happened to any of them, the others would rally behind the one in need. This is what life is all about. This is what will make humanity rise above any issues, above any pains.
Rabbit Hole, directed by Tarmo Kirsimäe, and with the amazing cast as mentioned above, will be playing at the theatre until February 17, 2019. If you’re anywhere near Long Island, don’t miss this show and this cast, because they are one special quintet!
(Photo by Rachel Drummer)