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Grief, Loss and Parallel Universes 

Redwood Curtain's Rabbit Hole and Synapsis' Cave

David Hamilton and Cassandra Hesseltine in the domestic drama.

Photo by Evan Wish Photography

David Hamilton and Cassandra Hesseltine in the domestic drama.

Rabbit Hole

When we hear the phrase "going down a rabbit hole" today, we tend to think of the endless distractions dangled in front of us by the internet. But there are many other less voluntary reasons people dive down rabbit holes and the loss of a loved one is the one playwright David Lindsay-Abaire presents us with in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, now playing at Redwood Curtain Theatre. It's a poignant exploration of the very different journeys taken by four family members as they process the loss of a fifth. Each is affected not only by their own past experiences, but the internal dynamics of the family, spoken and — more often than not — unspoken.

The play opens to a scene of everyday domesticity, two women sorting a pile of children's clothes on the kitchen table, but these two are having a far-from-everyday conversation. Izzy (Natasha White) is recounting a bar fight she initiated as her sister Becca (Cassandra Hesseltine) tries to contain her middle-class sensitivities. Less than five minutes into this display of parallel universes, Izzy reveals that she is pregnant by the erstwhile boyfriend of the woman she was fighting in the bar and we learn that the clothes being sorted belonged to Becca's recently deceased young son, Danny.

That same evening finds Becca discussing the day's momentous events with husband Howie (David Hamilton). The pair's reactions could not be more different. Becca wants to do everything possible to avoid being reminded of Danny's death, up to and including selling the house, while Howie is in group therapy for parents who have lost children and wants to normalize life by having another child.

Another parallel universe enters the picture in the person of Becca and Izzy's mother, Nat (Bernadette Cheyne). Nat believes that families can be cursed with bad luck — her current obsession being "the curse of the Kennedys" — but it soon becomes clear that the Kennedys are simply serving as a stand-in for her own family when we learn her son Arthur is also deceased.

Lindsay-Abaire completes the parallel-universe cycle when a letter to Becca and Howie arrives from the young man who accidentally caused Danny's death. Jason (Jon André Garcia) wants to dedicate a story he's written about robots to Danny because he read in the paper that Danny had been interested in robots.

As we follow each character's journey through grief toward some form of redemption, whether it's Becca's search for her next identity, Howie's adjustment to a different marriage dynamic, Nat's acceptance of the loss of her son, Jason's attempt at bonding with Becca, or Izzy's dreams for her own child, we recognize elements of our own journeys through the roller-coaster ride that is human existence. Whether the conclusion each character reaches is ultimately satisfying, I will leave to you to decide.

Hesseltine is tightly controlled as Becca, the outward personification of middle-class poise wrapped around unspoken inner turmoil, while Hamilton effectively balances rational husband with grief-wracked father. White is convincing as the mess-with-a-heart-of-gold Izzy and Cheyne's Nat bridges the differences between her daughters with nuanced humor and sensitivity. Newcomer Jon André Garcia impresses as the teen driver grappling with emotions beyond his years.

Peggy Metzger directs the production with her usual acuity, supported by well-thought-out scenic design by Robert Pickering, lighting design by Michael Burkhart, costume design by Megan Hughes, sound design by Jon Turney, properties by Morgan McBroom and stage management by Jessica McKnight.

Redwood Curtain Theatre's production of Rabbit Hole runs through Nov. 23 with shows Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Visit www.redwoodcurtain.com or call 443-7688.

Cave

Over at Synapsis, a very different exploration into the dynamics of loss and parallel universes is under way in Cave: A Performance about Bodies in Darkness, an original creation from the ever-fertile and inventive mind of Leslie Castellano and her team of multi-talented performers. The cave of the title is a magical space that exists between light and dark, between life and death, between consciousness and oblivion, where we can choose to face our demons or run from them.

With randomized and synchronized movement, spoken word, wide-ranging music and soundscapes, aerial sequences and the clever use of minimal costumes and properties, the performers lead the audience on imaginary journeys that challenge our acceptance of the world as we see it. Do we belong in the space we occupy? Who put us there? What are the consequences of what we do — or do not do? Do we really know ourselves and how many selves do we have?

Cave is performed by Leslie Castellano, Amy Rennie, Angie Valetutto, Anthea Chiatovich, Cindy Norvell, Dorothy Myers and Kitsu Colby, with light and sound by Nicholas Neal. It is a raw, challenging piece that will make you think about how you relate to the world around you — people, animals, environment, events — and how you can use the power of the cave to bring everything into balance.

Performances of Cave continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Nov. 8. Call 616-3104 or visit www.synapsisperformance.com.

Opening

From Nov. 8-Dec. 8, North Coast Repertory Theatre brings the Christian rock with the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Visit www.ncrt.net or call 442-6278.

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