by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Theatre Jacksonville opened its first show of 2011 with the Pulitzer Prize (2007) wining play, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, setting a high standard for the remainder of the season. This is a superb production in every way, including an excellent cast of actors, powerful direction with heart by Jean Rahner, and an ambitious set, that includes a living room, kitchen and a second floor bedroom.
The plot follows two generations of a family eight months after the tragic accidental death of a child. Danny (Christian Cosper), who was only four at the time of his death, is never seen but his voice is heard on video tape.
The mother, Becca, one of the most demanding roles, is played by MaryBeth Antoinette in her third role at TJ since moving to Jacksonville a couple of years ago. We found her to be an excellent comedian in “Our Leading Lady” and winner of Best Actress award. She can sing and dance with the best of them, as we saw in her portrayal of Sister Robert-Anne in “Nunsense.” Her performance as Becca certainly establishes her as a very fine dramatic actress.
Michael Lipp is a perfect match as Becca’s husband Howie, a man who struggles to control his emotions over the loss of their only child and to show tenderness toward his wife. When Becca accidently erases the only video tape of Danny, Howie accuses her of wanting to erase him from their lives by getting rid of the many reminders like his clothing and toys. The chemistry between Mr. Lipp and Ms.Antoinette is remarkable.
A death in the family touches everyone in different ways and “Rabbit Hole” dramatizes the efforts of other family members to help things return to normalcy, if that is possible.
Lindsey Weirch makes her Jacksonville Theatre debut as Izzy, Becca’s younger live-wire sister, who finds herself pregnant and unconcerned that she is not married. She intends to have the child, and this becomes an unspoken source of dissention between her and Becca. We are sure you will be seeing more of the talented Ms. Weirich in the future.
Fernandina Beach actress Toni D’Amico, who was previously on TJ’s stage in “Dearly Beloved gives a marvelous performance as Nat, Becca’s outspoken mother who imparts reason and motherly advice. Nat has known her share of sorrow from untimely death; her drug-addicted son Arthur committed suicide at the age of thirty. Ms. D’Amico’s mini-monologue on “The Kennedy Curse” was in a class by itself.
The final character in this play is the teenage boy Jason. While driving, Jason swerved to avoid hitting Danny’s dog; he didn’t see Danny who had followed the dog into the street and who died after being hit. Douglas Anderson School of the Arts sophomore, Pablo Jose’ Milla give a genuine and sincere performance that certainly garnered the sympathy of the audience for his plight. Curious about the title of the play? Jason is an aspiring writer, and writes a story he dedicates to Danny about rabbit holes.
St. Augustine’s Jean Rahner was a superb choice as the director of this wonderful theatre piece. A co-founder of St. Augustine’s very popular and successful Limelight Theatre, she retired as Artistic Director from Limelight but did not stay away from the stage long and now has formed A Classic Theatre Inc. Last year Rahner directed a magnificent production of “Death of a Salesman” at Limelight. Does Jean Rahner know drama? Yes indeed, as you will see with the remarkable performances of Rabbit Hole’s five actors and Ms. Rahner’s definitive direction.
The set by Scenic Designer Kelly Wagoner with Jeffery Wagoner as Technical/Lighting Designer has very dark walls, adding to the somber emotional atmosphere. The furnishings are those of a typical middle-class home, with many pieces of comfortable sturdy furniture in neutral tones.
Sally Pettegrews’ costumes match the setting. They are comfortable at-home clothes, with colors that grow somewhat brighter as time progresses.
A special mention goes to props mangers Chelsie Williams and Ali Witten. This is a prop heavy show, with all the children’s clothing and toys, and all those desserts that come out of the frig, as well as the wine and beer. Everything must be in the right place or the show does not flow. Great job, props!
Kudos as well to Stephanie Natale Frus as Stage Manager and Sound Board Operator.
Now we know from what we have written that the play sounds terribly serious, but the talented playwright has put comedy in almost every scene, breaking up those tense moments inherent in the plot. The play is thought-provoking. How do you cope with the death of someone you love? Rather than reading about it, why not call Theatre Jacksonville and experience this prize-winning play with its prize-winning performances? It will be on stage at the Harold K. Smith Playhouse, 2032 San Marco Boulevard in Jacksonville. Rabbit Hole runs through February 5. Call 396-4425 or visit www.theatrejax.com for additional information and reservations.
RABBIT HOLE theatre review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM