They are ordinary people, yet they hold our attention. Each has failings and blind spots, gets on our nerves, is too taken up in himself or herself — yet all make us care, all connect. We won't soon forget them.
That's David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole, as performed in exquisite outdoor surroundings at Sycamore Hill in Pottstown by Theater with a View through July 29. It's a gem of the summer. Fifty chairs surround the central area outdoors in this rural setting, and as these actors create worlds in our heads, cows low in the distance and birds flit among the sycamores. The power of this fine production derives in part from the play, which is direct, moving without being spectacular; and in large part from five terrific actors inhabiting their characters and those characters' worlds with restraint and empathy.
Grief is the subject. Becca and Howie have lost a son, and both are lost, at sea without a guide. Becca can't stand to be reminded, and is always packing away toys, clothes, any trace, while Howie holds on to every least sign. She has farmed their dog out to her mother, and he wants the dog back. She wants to leave this house, the site of their disaster; for him, it's the center, still, of their world. Becca cherishes her own hurt and denies anyone can help. To Howie she says: "You're not in a better place than I am. You're in a different place, and that sucks."
Grief renders each word explosive and awkward. Lindsay-Abaire has a remorseless, accurate ear for conversation. Nat, Becca's mother, natters on about the Kennedy sons dying ("all those good-looking people falling out of the sky, it's a waste!"), unaware of how it effects her daughter. Gifts, birthdays, politics, religion, the least-missed stitch in conversation, can open the wound anew.
All five actors are superb, with unerring direction by Seth Reich. Nina Covalesky renders Becca as long-suffering and irritating, but with flashes of dignity and humanity. Philly-area guy Drew Seltzer plays Howie as wrapped up in his own suffering and unable to extend comfort. Jo Twiss is wonderful as Nat, a master of hurting without meaning to. Connor Johnston is awkward and hinky as the high-school senior Jason, source of the central metaphor of "rabbit holes" that connect alternate universes: "If space is infinite, there are tons of yous and tons of mes." When he rattles happily on about the good time he had at the prom, Becca bursts into tears, the one good cry in the play. Becca's sister, Izzy — played with momentous energy by Jessica Myhr — is immature, insensitive, and, like everyone else here, unconscious of other people; she's also full of vitality and hope, eating cake, custard, and Bosco like there's no tomorrow. Myhr threatens to walk off with the show whenever she appears.
This play calls for rugged discipline, and these actors have it. Miraculously, these five explore grief without getting ponderous or even depressing. Instead, we have life as lived, and loss as suffered. Think about trying to see this production this weekend or next.