I don't think anyone without children can fully appreciate “Rabbit Hole.” (That includes me.) The connection with your own child is so specific – and the idea of losing him or her so uniquely crushing – that a person with no kids will have a hard time fully judging the impact of David Lindsay-Abaire's play.
The play, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama, has its Queen City premiere at Actor's Theatre of Charlotte. (It's also running through Nov. 22 at Hickory Community Theatre. I haven't seen that version.)
To me, “Rabbit Hole” seems most poignant in the smallest moments: the awkward lulls in conversation between the grieving husband and wife, or the uncomfortable pause after an in-law says something she wishes she could take back. We best understand these people after the heat of emotional battle subsides, and the chill of incommunicable pain takes over.
The ATC production is still finding its feet in these subtler sections, though the cast has a firm grip on the big emotional arias. Once the silences have as much weight as those dramatic outbursts, their job will be done.
The tiny figure looming over the play is Danny, who burst into the street after his runaway dog and went under the wheels of a high-schooler's car. His death affects each survivor differently, in ways they are unable to share.
Becca, his jobless mother (Susan Roberts Knowlson, stepping away from her usual roles in musicals), cooks and runs her suburban New York home with an efficiency that may mask her desire to put away the memory of the boy. Howie, his father (Chip Decker, who also designed the superbly detailed set), goes to work in a brokerage firm in Manhattan and hopes counseling will lessen the ache.
The comic relief comes mostly from Becca's family, but those laughs often arrive with a sting. Mother Nat (Polly Adkins) can't stop comparing Danny's death to the loss of her own son, a drug-addicted 30-year-old, and she drives Becca crazy with her blunt behavior. Pregnant sister Izzy (Julie Janorschke-Gawle) has a cavalier attitude toward incipient motherhood: She may or may not be staying sober now, but she's not above a bar fight with her boyfriend's ex.
Dennis Delamar has directed the play intelligently: Watch how Becca seldom looks directly at anyone to whom she speaks in the early scenes, while her grief is fresher; in act 2, she confronts people more easily, and her meeting with the driver of the fatal car (Nikhil Pai) has an openness and directness that suggests Becca is now more comfortable with her feelings. These are the kinds of details that can fully communicate Lindsay-Abaire's meaning, and they're welcome whenever the actors supply them.