It is easy to miss the beauty of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play Rabbit Hole. Somewhat old-fashioned in its structure, the play takes place almost entirely in one house. Conversations are everyday, peppered with occasional references to real people (John F. Kennedy Jr. and Matt Lauer are name-dropped). Time passage between scenes is minimal, with the most significant jump occurring during the intermission between Acts I and II. Excluding a few minor theatrical touches, not much happens in Rabbit Hole in the way of big events. Yet its simplicity has been a crucial component in the accolades the play has received. In an age where the metatheatrical rules, Rabbit Hole tells a simple yet rich story about a family overcoming the death of their child. Significant events do happen in the play of course, but Lindsay-Abaire’s presentation is so subtle that the audience does not see the shifts until they have already occurred.
The play opens in the eat-in kitchen of Becca and Howie’s upper-middle-class suburban home. While Becca folds laundry, her sister Izzy is in the middle of telling a story. Izzy is clearly full of personality, and her appearance and energy sharply contrast that of her subdued sister. Izzy recounts a recent bar fight she had with another woman over a boyfriend Izzy had stolen from her. In addition to bringing up the painful subject of Becca’s son Danny, who was struck by a car and killed eight months earlier, Izzy also reveals that she is a few months pregnant. Becca, who has been packing up Danny’s clothes to give away, instead offers them to Izzy in the event that she has a boy. Izzy declines, not feeling comfortable reusing the clothes of her lost nephew. After her initial shock subsides, Becca congratulates her sister.
Scene 2 shifts the action to the living room later that night. As they drink wine, Becca tells Howie about Izzy’s pregnancy. Howie has just gotten home from paying squash with his friend Rick, and Becca notes that Rick’s wife, Debbie, has not contacted her in any way since Danny’s death. Howie suggests Becca make the first call, but she insists it is Debbie who should initiate contact. Throughout the conversation, Howie dims the lights, puts some Al Green music on the stereo, and begins massaging Becca’s back. When he makes his advances more blatantly amorous, Becca declines. The couple then fights about their lack of intimacy since the accident. Howie suggests individual and couple’s counseling. He also mentions a support group for grieving parents that they used to attend; while he has continued to go to the meetings, Becca has not. Most importantly, he brings up the idea of trying to have another child. Becca accuses of him of being callous and insensitive to her feelings. She further refuses all of the therapeutic suggestions and instead asks to sell the house because of all of the painful memories. Howie agrees to consider it, and after Becca heads upstairs to bed, he watches a video of himself playing with Danny. Unbeknownst to him, Becca overhears part of this from the stairwell.
The third scene opens in the kitchen as Becca, Izzy, and Nat (their mother) celebrate Izzy’s birthday. A week has passed, and Nat is in the middle of a long, wandering diatribe about the Kennedys. Howie enters with some information he printed off of the Internet about all of the various tragedies that have befallen the famous family. Becca tries to change the subject, but Howie and Nat debate whether or not the Kennedys are guilty of hubris (in the sense of the excessive pride of Greek tragic characters). When Izzy opens her presents, Nat has gotten her a gift certificate to a baby store while Becca has gotten her a bathroom set (a choice she and Howie debated in the previous scene). Becca is upset because she thought they were saving baby-themed gifts for the baby shower. Nat mentions that Becca and Howie’s dog, Taz (who now lives with Nat), misses them. Nat then picks up the story thread about the Kennedys, pointing out that Aristotle Onassis’s belief that his son’s accidental death was a murder was rooted in his need to blame someone. This infuriates Becca, who sees it as a blunt comparison to her. Nat tries to draw parallels to her own lost son, Arthur, but Becca is outraged at comparing Danny to her heroin-addicted, suicidal brother. Becca storms out of the party, and Howie reveals that they received a letter earlier that day from Jason Willette, the teenager who accidentally killed their son.
Scene 4 begins with Jason speaking the words of his letter while Becca reads it in Danny’s...