Space plays a crucial role in Rabbit Hole, not only because of the places Lindsay-Abaire has chosen to depict, but also because of those he has chosen to omit. Rabbit Hole is defined by the places we do not see. Lindsay-Abaire confines the action to one house and, more specifically, three rooms within that house. We do not see Danny’s grave or the supermarket where Becca smacks a neglectful mother. We only see the characters within the confines of Howie and Becca’s home. The restricted quarters add an air of claustrophobia to the play, particularly for Howie and Becca. Nat and Izzy come and go, but Howie and Becca are forced to live in a house full of reminders of their emotional wounds. This is especially true for Becca, who reminds Howie that he at least gets to go to work, while she is trapped in the house virtually around the clock.

The kitchen in many ways serves as Becca’s domain. Throughout the play, she is shown in the process of cooking (most often desserts like crème caramel and lemon squares). The kitchen functions as a place where she can distract herself from her family’s turmoil. It also serves as the primary place of interaction with her mother and sister. In many ways, Howie is almost an outsider in this space, as evidenced by his peripheral role in Izzy’s birthday party. Tellingly, when Lindsay-Abaire offers a glimmer of hope at the end of the play, it is in Becca’s space.

Danny’s room is also significant because it is the most potent reminder of the child that used to live there. When Nat and Becca pack up Danny’s room, each is reminded of her lost child. Here again, Howie becomes the intruder when he checks in on them. His awkward interruption only underscores the idea that this place is defined by maternal loss.

The one space in the house where Howie is not presented as an outsider is in the living room. This is the place where Howie has his private “reunions” with...

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Rabbit Hole Performance Suggestions

By the author’s own description, Rabbit Hole is a very “delicate” play. Successful productions require the proper tonal balance to prevent it from becoming either over-the-top or too low-key. The play is very naturalistic in its structure and dialogue, so the design needs to complement this. Abstracting the environment or relying too heavily on symbolism in the color palette and design is wrong for this play. Lindsay-Abaire’s ideas are very simple and clear, and an overly busy design would detract from this. The Becca and Howie’s house should be comfortable, suburban, and ordinary. The most delicate aspect of the design is how to invoke Danny’s presence. How much of Danny should be evident in the kitchen and living room based on Howie’s accusation that Becca has tried to “erase” him? If these rooms are only sparsely reminiscent of Danny, then his room should create a strong contrast to this. In many ways, it is a shrine that has been left undisturbed since his passing.

Performances likewise need to err on the side of subtlety. In his author’s note to the play, Lindsay-Abaire warns against effusive displays of emotion, as they are out of character for these people. Perhaps the most difficult part is Becca. A role filled with potential traps, Becca must still be likeable despite her complicated personality and intense grief. Since the audience never meets Danny, its investment in him must come through the palpable feelings of loss in the characters who are in the play. The humor in Rabbit Hole is essential not only to making the characters relatable, but to balancing the dark storyline. Here, too, there are traps. If Nat and Izzy are played too broadly, their characters will seem out of place next to the heavy grieving of Becca and Howie. For the actor playing Howie, the key is to know what the character wants so he does not appear to be totally reactionary to Becca. Rabbit Hole is a mixed-genre play, and its success in production depends on the seamless melding of its various elements.

Rabbit Hole Bibliography

Brantley, Ben. 2006. “Mourning a Child in a Silence That’s Unbearably Loud.” New York Times, February 3, p. E1. Brantley’s review of Rabbit Hole hails it as an “anatomy of grief.”

Brustein, Robert. 2006. “Now We Are Dispersed.” New Republic, March 13, p. 29. The legendary theater critic takes on several current productions, including David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole.

Pincus-Roth, Zachary. 2006. “Who’d a Thunk It? (The Oxymorons).” Variety 403 (1): A2(1). An article about several productions that were both critically and commercially successful, including Rabbit Hole. The article also has a brief interview with David Lindsay-Abaire about the process of bringing his first play to Broadway.

Rooney, David. 2006. “Rabbit Burrows Deep.” Variety 401 (12): 85(2). A glowing review of Rabbit Hole with particular emphasis on the performances.

Wren, Celia. 2006. “Crime and Punishment: Rabbit Hole and Sweeney Todd.” Commonweal 133 (5): 18. This review of the Broadway production praises it for its delicate structure, keen direction, and sensitive performances, noting Lindsay-Abaire’s wackier earlier works.