By Joan Doggrell
In keeping with their proud artistic tradition, Newnan Theatre Company once again tackles a difficult subject head on. This time, it's a family grieving over the loss of a child. David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole" opens February 14 and runs through February 24. The play contains some mature language.
In 2007, "Rabbit Hole" received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and in 2006, Cynthia Nixon won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role as Becca.
As well as a playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire is a lyricist, librettist and screenwriter. His plays include "Fuddy Meers," "Kimberly Akimbo," "Wonder of the World," "High Fidelity" and "A Devil Inside."
"Rabbit Hole" portrays a family that has lost a four-year-old child named Danny, who was hit by a pick-up truck driven by a teenage boy. The death occurred eight months previously, and the family is struggling to work through the grieving process.
The characters include Danny's mother Becca and her husband Howie, Becca's mother Nat, and her younger sister Izzy, who tosses in a complication by announcing that she is pregnant.
In the final act, Jason, the young man who accidentally killed Danny, comes to the home. In honor of Danny he has written a story about alternate realities - reached through "rabbit holes" in the universe - where Danny May be living out his life.
Director Bert Lyons is no stranger to portraying complex emotion and controversial subjects. Two years ago at NTC he starred in "Evie's Waltz," playing the father of a disturbed boy threatening his family with a gun.
"Lindsay-Abaire has done an excellent job of portraying real-life reactions," said Director Lyons. "You would expect this to be a real downer of a play because of the subject matter. But if you compare it to real life, and real family relations - you know that no matter what the situation, somebody's going to crack a joke or make a remark, that's - well - funny. And you'll laugh. And somehow it lifts the spirit, although there are still tears."
"Husband and wife are both grieving but completely differently, which causes communication problems within the marriage," said Lyons. "The problems are not all resolved within this show, and will undoubtedly generate audience conversation. A person may identify with one particular character at the beginning, but realize at the end of the play that they've never considered the situation from another person's point of view. And that's the thing I like - the play is open-ended. It doesn't say everything turns out all right."
Becca is played by Donna Provencher, Howie by Kevin McInturff, Izzy by Lofton Riser, Nat by Betty Mitchell, and Jason by Jason Abraham, a student at Northgate High School. They are a varied group coming from Newnan, Peachtree City and, in the case of Provencher and Riser, as far away as Columbus.
"This has been a dream role for me for years," said Provencher. "After the show won a Pulitzer in 2007, I worked as a techie on a production of "Rabbit Hole" in Washington, DC, where I'm from. I fell in love with the play's intense and beautiful script. I've been wanting to do this show forever. So I decided that if it was playing within two hours - or even three hours - of where I lived, I was going for it."
Riser, originally from Colombia, South Carolina, had also worked on "Rabbit Hole" previously. At the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, she played Izzy in the birthday scene as part of her degree program. "I love the role, and, like Donna, I love the play," said Riser. "It's a hard one to do because of the subject matter. But to me it is an authentic representation of the grieving process, which is not neat and tidy, and you're not sad all the time."
"The relevance of the show really resonates for me right now," said Provencher. "We were cast right around the time of the shooting at Sandy Hook. At that juncture, I felt even more of a responsibility to tell this story in the most authentic way possible. There are so many families living this right now. I realized - this has to be real, this has to be authentic. Now I feel I owe it to these people to show an accurate depiction of grief and loss. It became a different sort of labor of love for me after that."
"There are so many movies, books and dramas about the immediate aftermath of a tragic event," said Riser. "But there's not much about the slow process of rebuilding one's life. It's something that must be dealt with down the road. The grieving process is a long one - sometimes the rest of your life. The grief doesn't go away, but it changes. The journey is a path with many turns and roundabouts along the way."
"I'm really proud of this cast," said Lyons. "Even in our early rehearsals, they've already hit moments where I've felt - this is great. This is the tempo - this is a real family I'm watching. I even joked that this was better than Downton Abbey!"
"Rabbit Hole" is intelligent, it's funny, and it's moving," added Lyons. "People who come out to see it will be glad they did."
To purchase tickets, and for show dates and times, visit Newnan Theatre Company's web site at www.newnantheatre.org or visit the box office before or after any performance. The theater is located in historic downtown Newnan at 24 First Avenue.
Pictured: The "Rabbit Hole" cast, left to right: Lofton Riser, Jason Abraham, Betty Mitchell, Kevin McInturff, and Donna Provenche.