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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

Hidden Anguish

Theater Review

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An extraordinary event can affect ordinary people in ordinary ways, even when unexpected circumstances result in a crushing blow. This is the underling theme of David Lindsay-Abair's compelling, subtly written play, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, presented with remarkable insight by an outstanding cast at the Chamber Theatre through Nov. 2. Lindsay-Abair's quiet little comedy-drama seeks to demonstrate that reaching for "ordinariness" and family support are the most palliative healing remedies when people become innocent victims of an indifferent fate, but sometimes the struggle to regain the equilibrium of normalcy can become a smoke screen further concealing hidden pain.

Becca Corbet tries to cope with the life-altering loss of her four-year-old son killed in a freak car accident. Her husband, Howie, tries therapy while her mother and sister believe in the pragmatic simplicity of "facing things head on and moving on." Nothing is working right, however. Her sister is pregnant. Her mother seems to minimize the earlier death of her dope-addicted brother. Becca denies her husband sex. She strikes a woman in a grocery store who will not buy candy for her little son. She curses God's mean-spirited indifference. Yet she steadfastly sees herself as a cool customer. She dreams of an alternate universe, "a rabbit hole,"a never-ending stream of contentment with her pain all gone.

Nonetheless, this remarkably winning play never reaches for breast-beating melodrama or tries to curdle the audience with demands for the milk of human compassion. Things are presented as they are with unaffected simplicity. The dialogue is deceptively simple, combining wit, and the kind of candid humor that modern audiences prefer. They laughed frequently at the absurdity of the ordinary with which they can identify. Never oppressive, the drama rolls along merrily, masterfully written, with high-spirited wit deliberately concealing the hidden anguish in keeping with what the play's characters prefer. It is fun to watch throughout.

Jacque Troy takes on the title role of Becca with a provocative assurance that reaches out to the viewer. Her brittle veneer of facing things as they are does not fool anyone, nor does she expect it to. She wants her sorrow acknowledged, but from a respectful distance. Troy's performance is so carefully layered that her emotions are transparent even before she delivers her lines.
Izzy, the pregnant sister, as stunningly played by Katheryn Bilbo is genuinely hardened. She wants her sister to lighten up and face facts. Her affection is genuine, but her sympathies have limitations. The play needs the snap she brings to her role.

Jan Rogge as the mother in denial has long recovered from the death of her own son. Her scars need no reopening, and she cannot help but become somewhat treacly when she attempts sympathy. Her sense of facing reality is from another time and place.

Good looking Steven M. Koehler does well, but speaks a tad too softly and must cope with a formidable trio of women. An element of surprise is effectively introduced by the talented young UW-Milwaukee senior David M. Bohn who gives the play its final and most poignant sense of irony, bringing this mini-comic-tragedy of the ordinary to full circle.

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