Winneshiek Playhouse opened “Rabbit Hole” Saturday evening to an audience of theatre-goers who braved the snow. It was indeed worth the inclement weather to experience the two acts of comedic quips, profound grief and all the trappings of how one extended family copes with the loss of a young child.
The Pulitzer Prize winning play was written by David Lindsay-Abaire, an extraordinary talent by way of Sarah Lawrence College, then Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at Julliard School. Tom Myers directed his debut play at WP after decades of theatre development at High Community College. He was most pleased about last night’s production as well as the work of the five member cast.
It was the presence of the invisible characters, however, that hung over the house like a shroud of gripping sadness, impossible to fathom. A recording of young Delaney Munda in an early scene as the angelic voice was a tearful reminder of the little lost Danny. A recording of the dog Taz also scarred memories of the little boy who chased him into the street.
The action takes place in the present, late February in a New York suburb. It could be anywhere anytime, however, since the reality of the loss is as old as Ancient writings depicting the ultimate grief. “When a parent dies, you lose your past; when a child dies, you lose your future.” (Anonymous) Also, nearly all species of monkeys carry their dead child for days.
The mourning of this loss is a painful process and likely differs from one person to the next. The play takes five characters through this journey escalating their own life dysfunctions to a higher mark. Thus some classic phases of anger, depression and bargaining become a new dynamic. Sometimes comedic, sometimes frighteningly furious.
As father Howie, Doug Munda brought his acting experience and special versatility to the role as perfectly relatable. His character’s struggle between what would be his normally sedate presence in the household is confronted by what seems to him a thankless parade of failures around him. The blame game, the “what if’s,” are key to his occasional blowups. The presence of his velvet vocal timbre is reassuring in regular dialogue, then impactful during rage.
So convincing is Munda’s vocal strength, that Tana Gundry as wife Becca might have seemed a bit upstaged in early scenes together. She developed strongly, however, with each emotion until her son’s tomb could not be raised any further. Her voice found itself, as well as her rhythm, which often at the opening of any play, any cast, anywhere has to settle into smooth interactions.
The subject of something as dark as this piece proves, once again, that humor is perfectly appropriate as a partner in the process. Nikki Sands as Izzy is one character that takes a level of trendy cynicism with comical quips. She is youthful waywardness, flaunting her casual pregnancy by a gig-thirsty musician throughout. She provides fodder for the angst between her and those falling apart around her.
Mary Jo Clapper as Nat is an un-grandmotherly grandmother who drinks and talks too much. She played the part that we all know and love by bringing her baggage to the table with every glass of wine.
No less important to the plot is the appearance of Jamie Ertmer as Jason who appears at first in a sorrowful letter of guilt about how he drove down the wrong street that day to change everyone’s lives forever, including his own.
“Rabbit Hole,” a worthwhile show – snow or not – runs March 6th, 7th and 8th at 7:30 p.m. Tickets available at (815) 232-7023 or at