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 his son by watching the video. It is also the room where Becca and Howie battle over their conflicting feelings. Pointedly, many of these battles are about the house itself. Howie accuses Becca of trying to remove all traces of Danny from the house; she even wants to sell it because it is so replete with memories. Becca describes her differences with Howie in spatial terms: “You’re not in a better place than I am, you’re just in a different place.”
The most important place we do not see lies just outside the living room door because Danny was struck right in front of the house. That place and event ultimately invade the house when Jason comes to visit. While he does not make it past the doorway in his first attempt, Becca later invites him into the home he forever changed. On a symbolic level, Becca and Howie finally allow the truth of Danny’s death into their house and their lives.
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...
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