Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire. Ensemble Theatre directed by Sandra Bates at the Playhouse October 2-7, 2007. Bookings Canberra Ticketing 62750 2700.
Rabbit Hole must have been awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize because it is a feel-good play. When we think of the great American plays like O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Miller’s Death of a Salesman or Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, there simply is no comparison. Feel-good is just not the same as good, let alone great.
No-one could complain about the acting of any of the excellent cast, led by Georgie Parker and Mark Kilmurry, but the playscript is a contrived “well-made” play about an issue, coping with death, which must as quickly as possible in the last 15 minutes reach a happy resolution. On the way, the playwright has made obvious decisions like the first half must end with a massive emotional scene, while at predictable points the audience must be made to laugh (to relieve the tension, you know). The result is that the first half had to be fast-paced to cover for the lack of genuine emotional justification for the characters’ behaviour, while the second slowed a little (after an early gratuitous laugh) to lead us to a sentimental ending at which some audience members cried as they do watching a television soapie.
The play, and the excellent set, presents itself as naturalistic, but I can only say Lindsay-Abaire’s education at Sarah Lawrence College and the Juilliard School, New York, could not have included any study of the original master of naturalism, Henrik Ibsen. A Doll’s House runs rings around Rabbit Hole.
Fortunately the actors were good enough (even with some slightly wobbly American accents) to hold the play together despite its highly unrealistic elements like the appearance of the young driver who ran over Beccie and Howie’s 4-year-old son Danny. The issue of how people cope with such tragedies in an unforgiving universe is a worthwhile theme. It’s just disappointing that this playwright, prize-winner or not, does not give the actors a script with the depth of understanding they, and we, deserve.
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