“The Rabbit Hole”

February 9, 2009

RabbitHoleI read a really interesting play the other day.  I don’t tend to really get into realistic dramas; they’re interesting plays, and often very good, but they don’t tend to inspire me very much.  David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole, was different.

The main thing I dislike about modernist-realistic tragedies is how limited they are in scope.  In the vast majority of cases they limit themselves to a single family, usually in a single room.  But more broadly, they tend to present stunted views on the possibilities of human life.  Such plays seem bound to the inevitable tragic explosion at their end, where we experience the “revelation” of just how messed-up this family/couple/person is, and are usually treated to lots of yelling and (eventually) despair.

It’s not that these plays aren’t ever good.  And it’s not that they aren’t true; many (maybe even most) families are pretty messed up, and people do yell at each other in real life.  It’s really just that at this point in my life, I just find such plays boring.  I’ve seen and read enough of them that by the initial exposition I can predict exactly where this train is headed, and know that I don’t want to be there when it arrives.  And ultimately they are all just so limited.  There is so much more to life than what occurs inside white Americans’ homes and heads.

But, as I said, Rabbit Hole was different.  It is, in fact, about white people; and it does, in fact, occur entirely inside their house.  But what made this play different is that it did not take the obvious course.  The story is essentially about a couple who has lost their young son in a tragic car accident.   In the initial pages of play, I thought I recognized the same old locomotive I seen so many times before.  I thought I could see exactly the factors that would cause the couple’s marriage to head off a cliff.  But Lindsay-Abaire is a better playwright than that.

Instead of making a play in which the character’s conflicts and past are so inexorably awful they will inevitably end in tragedy, he make a play in which the characters somehow soldier through, despite their deep wounds, and hold onto their relationships and families like tattered garments in a storm.  The play is genuinely sad — as any play about the death of a young child must be — yet ultimately hopeful.  It does not cheapen the story by making it seem any easier to get through than it actually is, but it does not make tragedy the inevitable victor.

And in accomplishing that feat, David Lindsay-Abaire has made a play that is both more complex, and more true than any other play like it I have read.

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One Response to ““The Rabbit Hole””

  1. Kate Paulsen said

    Brilliant Casey! I would love to read it! (PS- you should be a theatre critic. I love that you were able to be honest without being unnecessarily harsh. Your opinions were backed with example and deep thought. Good Job!)

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