City Circle - I have never had such a difficult time writing a review. I believe that theatre serves an important purpose that we don't talk about very much. Just as physical exercise strengthens our muscles and intellectual exercise strengthens our minds, emotional exercise strengthens our spirits. That's what theatre at its best is: emotional exercise. It's an opportunity for us to laugh, to cry, to anger, and through those feelings, regenerate our spirits. This is why people enjoy tearjerkers... or why a good cry really does make you feel better. Exercising our emotions is key to one's humanity. City Circle's production of Rabbit Hole is certainly exercise for the emotions. And for the first time in watching theatre, I was beginning to feel as if my emotions didn't need to be exercised quite that much. The plays tells the story of how two parents, Becca and Howie, deal with the accidental death of their four-year-old son. Yes, you will cry. If you're a parent, you may try to imagine how you would feel if your child were taken from you in horrible accident. And even imagining that hurts. I admit I left the theater wondering if this play is really... necessary. Questioning why we need to feel these particular painful emotions. Perhaps it was that the subject matter comes too close to home; I have three young daughters. Despite all of that, I realize that I have a responsibility as a reviewer to offer you a review of the show. So here goes.
One of the enjoyable parts of living in a smaller community is that we get to see the same performers taking on vastly different roles. Two months ago, I saw both Jeremy Ping and Jana Stedman playing very different characters in ICCT's production of Bus Stop. Stedman has amazingly shifted from the naive girl in Bus Stop to the emotionally crippled mother in Rabbit Hole. She deftly uses her ramrod straight posture and methodical actions as an attempt to hide the pain Becca feels from losing her son. The acting is so believable, it's painful for the audience. You will desperately want to reach out to her and comfort her. Or at least you want her to reach out to her sister, her husband, anyone... but she does not.
Ping is equally good as Howie. His reactions are more emotional, more desperate. The scene where Howie explodes over the loss of a videotape of his son is simply a tour de force of emotion by Ping. The differences in the way in which each character deals with the loss of their son pits Howie and Becca against each other at a time when they should be comforting each other. As anyone who has gone through the loss of a child knows, it is not at all uncommon for a married couple to splinter apart in the wake of such a tragedy. I won't spoil whether they find their way back together, but I will say that the ending is fitting and very true to life.
Supporting character include Becca's ne'er do well sister, Izzy, played by Kerry Kieler; Becca's overbearing mother, Nat, played by Connie Stannard; and a teenage boy, Jason, played by Nick Ostrem. Kieler's character is familiar to those who know David Lindsay-Abaire's other plays as he likes to throw in the crazy relative as a contrast to the seemingly normal main characters. Kieler embraces the role completely, using vocal tone and facial expressions to bring to life this black sheep of the family. Her slouching posture as well as the choice to sit on tables or other furniture provides a wonderful contrast to her sister's very put together demeanor. Kudos go to Josh Beadle for directing the actors to provide such perfect contrasts in their portrayals. Stannard is excellent considering she has to play a rather unlikable character. Ostrem is perfectly believable as the boy who accidentally killed Becca's son.
The set is very effective and realistic. The constant presence of the deceased son's empty bed reminds us of the pain the household is experiencing. Unfortunately, when I saw the show, they were having technical difficulties so the only lighting we had was house lights up and house lights down. Special kudos have to go to the actors who gave such true performances under such difficult circumstances.
So is Rabbit Hole worth seeing? The performances and the direction were excellent, so from that perspective, the answer is surely "Yes". I suppose one could argue that the fact that it had such a dramatic effect on me means it has done what theatre is supposed to do - exercise our emotions. I am truly torn over whether our emotions can have too much exercise. You'll have to decide that for yourself. I will tell you that when I got home that night, I kissed my sleeping girls' foreheads and thanked God that they were all okay.
If you are seeing the show this weekend, check out the change to performance venue.
Matthew has a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Iowa. He has directed, acted in, and produced theater in the Iowa City area for over ten years. He has worked with the Iowa City Community Theatre, City Circle and Dreamwell, of which he is a founder. Two of his plays have been produced in the Iowa City area. In another brief life, he also worked as a technical writer.