Play offers lessons on healing

    The play “Rabbit Hole” won the Pulitzer Prize and it’s been optioned for a movie starring Nicole Kidman. Yet, as Philadelphia’s Arden Theater presents the play this month, it’s finding that some people are steering clear. Why? The play tackles the most emotional of topics.

    The play “Rabbit Hole” won the Pulitzer Prize and it’s been optioned for a movie starring Nicole Kidman. Yet, as Philadelphia’s Arden Theater presents the play this month, it’s finding that some people are steering clear. Why? The play tackles the most emotional of topics.
    (Poster artwork for Arden Theatre Company’s production of Rabbit Hole. Design by Kristy Giballa.)

    Listen:

    [audio:091119msrabbit.mp3]

    For some theater-goers, the play’s deeply emotional plot comes as a surprise.

    “I thought it was about rabbits”

    Instead, Rabbit Hole is about a family coping with grief in the months after a 4 year old boy gets killed in a car accident. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire received rave reviews from critics for his sensitive, quiet, and realistic portrayal of people torn apart by sadness.

    The subject matter makes the play a challenge for both audiences and cast. For some, it stirs up hard memories. Here’s the Arden theater’s artistic director, Terry Nolan:

    Nolan: I had a sister who died about 25 years ago, so she was younger, so when I read the play, I recognized it. I understood immediately what the family was grappling with.

    For others, it’s a topic that seems unbearable. Brian Russell plays the father in Rabbit Hole. While he fell in love with the play, his wife, who usually practices his roles with him couldn’t stand it:

    (l-r): Grace Gonglewski as Becca and Brian Russell as Howie in Arden Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole. Photo by Mark Garvin.
    (l-r): Grace Gonglewski as Becca and Brian Russell as Howie in Arden Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole. Photo by Mark Garvin.
    Russell: We started to read it together and immediately, immediately she started crying, and she just started sobbing – you know she is a new mom, and she is a very sensitive person.

    So – the play has been a bit of a tough sell for the Arden says Terry Nolan:

    Nolan: As we have been marketing it, it’s been a constant challenge to figure out how we are honest about the subject matter of the play, while letting the audience know that it’s also a play that is filled with laughter and love.

    After the performance on a Sunday afternoon – the feedback is positive:

    Audience Member:
    it was beautifully done, and it was very engaging.

    And theater goers are in conversation about grief:

    (l-r): Julianna Zinkel as Izzy, Janis Dardaris as Nat, and Grace Gonglewski as Becca in Arden Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole. Photo by Mark Garvin.
    (l-r): Julianna Zinkel as Izzy, Janis Dardaris as Nat, and Grace Gonglewski as Becca in Arden Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole. Photo by Mark Garvin.
    Audience Member: These two ladies have lost their husbands and I have lost a twin brother and we were talking about the difference between throwing everything away or keeping the presence of the person, and how people handle that in opposite ways and that makes for dissension.

    That’s what a play like this can do, says Philadelphia therapist Linda Welsh. It can start a conversation on a difficult topic, provide an outlet to deal with emotions, and teach important lessons along the way:

    Welsh: What you can learn is how not to force your own way of dealing with loss and grief on someone, even someone who you think you know very well, and is very close to you, that everybody has to work these things out as their style allows.

    Actress Grace Gonglewski who plays the mother in Rabbit Hole hopes for a simple take-away message – to be kind to one another:

    Gonglewski: When my mother died I would be driving in the car, and I would lose myself in the grief, and I would not go right away when the green light changed. And I wanted to say to the person behind me, yo buddy just chill out, I’m grieving. But there is no way to have that in your life. So I hope that this play will remind people to just treat each other with a little tenderness, because there is a lot of grief.

    Rabbit Hole is at The Arden Theater in Philadelphia through December 20th.

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