Rabbit Hole Summary

Rabbit Hole is a Pulitzer Prize–winning play about a couple navigating the aftermath of their child's death.

  • Becca and Howie, a young, suburban married couple, are grieving the loss of their four-year-old son, Danny, who was hit by a car. Their relationship has become strained.
  • Becca's sister, Izzy, announces that she is pregnant. Becca argues with but later receives comfort from their mother, Nat. Howie and Becca attempt to sell their house.
  • Jason, the teenage boy who accidentally hit Danny with his car, visits Becca. Becca and Howie plan to reconnect with old friends and, in the final scene, clasp hands.

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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.

Extended Summary

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Act 1, Scene 1

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.

Act 1, Scene 2

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.

Act 1, Scene 3

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...

(This entire section contains 1513 words.)

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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.

Act 1, Scene 4

Scene 4 begins with Jason speaking the words of his letter while Becca reads it in Danny’s room. He expresses a desire to meet Becca and Howie, and also encloses a short story he wrote that he wants to dedicate to Danny. As Becca finishes the letter, the scene shifts downstairs to the living room, where Howie begins watching his video and quickly realizes it has been taped over. He calls Becca down and accuses her of deliberately erasing Danny’s video. She maintains it was an accident, but Howie brings up his feelings that Becca is trying to remove all signs of Danny from their house and their lives. He demands that they bring their dog, Taz, back because he cannot stand to lose any more of their former life. Both Becca and Howie express feelings about what they might have done differently to prevent Danny’s accident.

Act 2, Scene 1

The second act begins two months later. Howie and a more visibly pregnant Izzy are closing up after an open house. Howie laments the meager turnout, and Izzy suggests redoing Danny’s room, noting that it made for uncomfortable conversation when the prospective buyers asked about his son (and Howie responded honestly). Izzy then interrogates Howie about another uncomfortable topic. Izzy’s friend, Reema, a waitress, told Izzy she had recently waited on Howie while he was dining out with another woman and holding her hand. Howie is furious and claims that he was out with another grieving parent from his support group. Despite his protests, Izzy reminds Howie that having an affair is not a solution to his problems with Becca. A moment later, Nat and Becca return home from the grocery store, where Becca has had an altercation with another mother in the store. According to Nat, the mother was ignoring her son. When Becca confronted the mother about it, the mother told her to mind her own business and Becca smacked her. Nat explained Becca’s situation to the mother to prevent the conflict from escalating. In the midst of Becca being questioned by her husband and sister about her behavior, Jason Willette appears in the doorway. He explains that he thought he could stop by since they were having an open house. Howie refuses to talk to Jason and demands that he leave. Jason apologizes and departs. Nat and Becca retire to the kitchen to unpack their groceries, and Izzy again urges Howie to redo Danny’s room.

Act 2, Scene 2

The second scene of Act II shows Becca and Nat carrying out Izzy and Howie’s suggestion. A week has passed, and Becca and Nat pack away the things in Danny’s room for storage, donation, or disposal. Nat becomes reflective about Danny and Becca urges her to push on. Becca comes across the science fiction story that Jason included with his letter. She tells her mother that she wants to meet with him. Howie briefly interrupts to check on their progress, but senses he is disturbing them and quickly leaves. Becca asks Nat if the feelings ever go away and her mother informs her that they do not, which in the end is both painful and oddly comforting.

Act 2, Scene 3

Scene 3 takes place several days later. Becca is in the living room with Jason. She has invited him over for a visit and is serving him freshly made lemon squares. While chatting about school, Jason suddenly says that he thinks he might have been going two or three miles per hour over the speed limit the day he hit Danny. The chitchat resumes, and the subject shifts to Jason’s recent prom. In the midst of a story about him and his friends drinking and partying in a limo, Becca begins to cry. Jason apologizes for his insensitivity, and Becca switches topics again, thanking him for the story. She asks Jason if the missing scientist in the story he wrote is based on Jason’s father (who is no longer around), but he abruptly denies it. They then talk of rabbit holes, portals to alternate universes, and Becca ponders if somewhere in the universe is a version of their lives with a happier outcome. Jason asks her to tell Howie about his possibly being over the speed limit and she promises to do so.

Act 2, Scene 4

The last scene of the play takes place that evening in the kitchen. Nat and Izzy have some boxes of Danny’s old stuff that Becca is giving Izzy for her baby. Howie comes home, and Nat and Izzy quickly say their goodbyes. He asks how the visit with Jason went and Becca tells him that it went well (and that neither one of them blames him). Howie informs her that he has decided to stop going to the grief group because it is no longer helping him. Becca tells him that she has made plans for them with their friends Rick and Debbie. Becca admits that she called Debbie herself and they reconciled. As they ponder the potential awkwardness of their weekend plans, they wonder if things will be all right for them in the future. Howie says they will be, so they clasp hands without looking at each other and wait to find out if he is right.


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