Last weekend saw the very successful opening of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, the first main stage production for the Department of Theater and Dance 09-10 season.
Directed by BFA professor Irwin Appel, this Pulitzer Prize winning drama about a family’s search for comfort in the months after the death of their son was beautifully presented by the student actors.
This was a highly demanding show for the five actor cast, most of whom played characters years their senior and thrust into circumstances that no person need ever endure. They certainly rose to the occasion though, filling the Performing Arts Theater with each performance.
“When I’m choosing a play, I’m thinking to myself, ‘is this a challenge we can undertake?'” Appel explained at a talkback following Sunday’s performance, adding, “I think part of our mission [in the Department of Theater and Dance] is to do things that are challenging. I think that from day one, they have gotten it.”
One great success of this production was the overall tone of the show. Saying it is simply a sad play takes credit away from the work of the actors who were careful not to fall into shouting arguments about who deserves more guilt. There was never a sense of melodrama. The show is more touching than sad, filled with moments of genuine humor as well as deep pain, fear, and even hope.
“I find this play uplifting.” Appel said.
Nobody on stage was there to demonstrate emotion; the characters were searching for something- anything- to keep them going.
“To me the play is not about crushing loss,” Joelle Golda, who played the lead role Becca, said. “That is what the play involves. It’s about surviving.”
Annabelle Rollison, who played Nat, described a similar sentiment, one that was clearly consistent among the cast members.
“These are not emotional people. These are people who survive their hardships.” Rollison said.
Indeed the primary focus of the show is how the characters survive the aftermath of tragedy. David Lindsay-Abaire describes this as a “naturalistic” play, one in which plot takes a backseat to the journey of each character. Their actions move the story versus their actions being determined by a grand conflict with a simple, tangible resolution.
“It’s a play less about plot and more about how each character copes with a past event, copes with a loss.” Appel said.
The conflict between characters stems from this very idea, making the audience feel as though they are not watching a play, but rather peeking into the lives of someone from their neighborhood. The tension rises slowly, moments of humor weave in and out of the story, and often more was communicated in the silence after someone had spoken than in just the lines alone.
“Everybody in the play fels like they’re not allowed to have their own feelings,” Appel said. “It’s the notion [that] everyone obviously has their own feelings about this event, but they know that [Becca’s] loss is the greatest.”
Performances last through Saturday Nov. 21 at 8pm in the Performing Arts Theater with a matinee at 2pm on Sunday, for tickets, visit the Theater and Dance box office or go online at theaterdance.ucsb.edu.