Rabbit Hole – The cycle of a haunted grief. (Theatre Review)

Rabbit Hole

Chippen Street Theratre and Exit Game Productions

18 April to 27 April. You can grab your tickets here.

A specter is haunting Becca (Imogen Morgan) and Howie (Peter-William Jamieson) in their nice modern home. For Howie, the symbol of the missing inside his home is comforting. For Becca it inspires an irrevocable sadness. For Howie, not seeing the trinkets associated with his son’s life opens the wound. For Becca they function as a reminder to something that is absent. Howie feels supported by meeting with parents going through something similar. Becca argues with her mother (Alison Chambers) who has also lost a child, and refuses to imagine she understands. Amid all of this is the talk. The vocalization applied constantly to an untenable situation that attempts to make sense of the senseless and re-presence the peace that existed before The Event that changed everything. David Lindsay-Abaire writes the words and the process of what gripped grief is like when a strange dichotomy appears around the unsayable. Just as there are no words to express, one finds that one can’t stop talking, as if searching for the single phrase that will ease the pain. Verbal becomes partnered with visible. When the parents of a lost child exist inside the house where the child lived silence suggests a profound need for vocal traces, an intense desire for sonorous ghosts.

For director Christie Koppe, haunting is not necessarily the presence of a ghost interfering with the practice of life. She paints the child in absentia as haunting the living parents. But it is his specter, his previously and no longer Real that is the cause of this trauma. The missing child melds with taken-for-granted realities. In a gut-wrenching performance, Imogen Morgan is inconsolable, not with The Real of her child’s death, but with the carrying on with life and how that will be done. She is haunted by what life will look like now. Coming to terms with grief is a process of transformative recognition and it is said that we grieve in order to stop grieving. Becca embraces the trappings of this transformation, but refuses it in essence. Her husband Howie refuses the trappings, but can be seen as working his way through his grief. The way that Christie Koppe directs writer David Lindsay-Abaire the experienced world of the mourning couple is represented in a parade of memories, mnemic traces and perceptual ghosts that do not necessarily correspond to a mind-independent reality.

Writer David Lindsay-Abaire places us in the room with these parents as they go about their mourning process. He’s kinder to Howie than he is to Becca, but a fine performance from Imogen Morgan makes up for a lack of tenderness in the writer’s expression of her character. She is still enormously interesting, even as her understandable anger separates her from our sympathies. We watch as Becca moves from her unsuccessful mourning (moving back and forth between trauma, reflection and grief) or melancholia. As we witness, she begins the psychical process of separating herself from the love object and start to archive the matrix of mnemonic traces and fantasies associated with what has been lost. She reaches out for her mother, she becomes a wife to her husband again. For Howie (a wonderful performance by Peter-William Jamieson) the grieving process is less complex. He will just cry until he stops. The pair disconnect in the most tragic ways until they start to come together again. Part of what makes this writing so powerful, is the ‘there and not there’ privilege of the audience. We repeatedly get a sense we are witnessing the truth of a very private grieving process.

On a stand out set design the sadness of this little family is played out before us. The play opens with a tet-a-tet between Becca and her sister Izzy played to perfection by Rachel Giddens. The role of Issy is really just a reflection of Becca, but Rachel Giddens brings vibrant and joyful life to the role, making Izzy a more complex and nuanced character. Equally so, Alison Chambers as Nat is the very funny mother hen of the family. Often gifted the best and funniest lines, Alison Chambers knows how to take full advantage of her well written character to make us laugh when we are not sure what to do with all the sadness. Sam Wallace is excellent as a (no spoilers) stranger needing to get close to the family. The scene between himself and Imogen Morgan that ties their characters is beautifully wrought and very well directed by Christie Koppe. Performances by Imogen Morgan and Peter-William Jamieson are delicately and finely directed, calling forth the best from the talented actors who have so much to convey.

In the end, the grieving process is a sad and complex thing that requires great patience and love from all those involved. From Imogen’s obsessive cooking to Howie’s attempt to sell his home, grief is a series of ephemeral movements of a body in space enacting a repertoire of embodied knowledge. It involves a desire to escape the experience of the immanent present or never ending now. Yet there is no escape. Only the latent trajectory of moving further into the place where ‘they’ no longer exist. Rabbit Hole is a beautiful example of this terrifying space. It has been brought to tragic and beautiful life by Christie Koppe and her team. It’s beauty will haunt you for months to come.