THEATER REVIEW: Rabbit Hole's  

A Wonderful Catharsis: deep grief, heartbreak satisfy

Rabbit Hole
Presented by PURE Theatre Company
Nov. 23-24, 29-30, 7:30 p.m.
December 1, 5-8, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 25, 2 p.m.
54 St. Philip St., Charleston
(843) 723-4444

Alice found a rabbit hole and ended up in Wonderland. Lacking an Alice, lacking Wonderland, with nothing magical save the quality of the actor's performances, the current staging of this 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by PURE Theater still manages to be full of wonder.

This is the swan song for PURE at the Cigar Factory, and what a wonderful note to go out on. Their last regular season performance in that space, Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, embodies everything this companies strives to achieve ­— an excellent story and excellent acting, in an intimate space that has no means to hide flaws but serves to exemplify perfection.

Perfection is a strong word to use, but it can be applied here comfortably given audience response to this story of grief and healing.

Gene Lesser has his directorial debut in Charleston, and if this show is any example, he will be a powerful and welcome new force in the region. Once a professor at Juilliard, and most recently director of the MFA program at SUNY Binghamton, his has an impressive list of students, including such recognizable names as William Hurt, Kevin Kline, and Kelsey Grammer (who he once kicked out of Juilliard for not being ready for the stage). The experience and level of talent he brings to the production is the solid foundation upon which this show is built.

In a bare synopsis, this is a story of a husband and wife who have recently lost their four-year-old boy to a complete accident.

That's it.

There is no larger plot, no world-changing event or lofty goal to struggle towards throughout the story. The grief presented here is not loud, no wailing or ranting, no tearing of clothes or dark thoughts of suicide, rather it is perhaps the most accurate and deeply moving portrayal of a family dealing with the death of a loved one that has been presented on stage. Tears do not flow from the audience, but throughout the show, as the sorrow just appears subtly, unexpectedly, little sobs and sniffles abound, and eyes glisten as the audience shares the pain of the couple's loss.

While the actors are given everything they need to succeed with such a powerful script and superb directing, they themselves bring the show home with their simple, yet moving presentations. There is laughter to be found in Rabbit Hole, as in many of Lindsay-Abaire's plays, and each laugh comes easily due to the excellent work of the wife's mother and sister played, respectively, by Cynthia Barnett and Jenny Pringle. They awkwardly do their best, as family members often do, to help the grieving couple. Their well-meaning attempts to cheer up the ones they love come as they themselves must deal with their own issues.

Sharon Graci, PURE's artistic director plays the grieving wife opposite David Mandel as her husband. Each is trying to cope in their own manner with the loss. Their love for one another is easily seen as is their frustration with being unable to help each other find the place where the grief becomes bearable. It is their journey together and apart that provides the plot for the play, and it is their arrival at the end that lets the audience leave feeling content and satisfied. When the boy who killed their son, played by Will Northcut, unexpectedly visits, the level of emotion in the room reaches an almost unbearable level. This is an excellent ensemble working under the firm hand of an outstanding director.

PURE stands ready to succeed no matter where they finally land. While it would be nice to see them in a more comfortable space with perhaps a little larger budget, here is hoping they never get away from presenting works that feel like they are performed directly for you.


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