Word in the Jungle Theater box office has it that the theater’s name came to founder Bain Boehlke in a vision while he was on vacation in Puerto Vallarta. Appropriately, the company’s Lyndale Avenue performance space has a dream-like, floating aspect that makes it perfect for plays—such as David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole—that feature intense emotion and interpersonal disconnection. To either side of the audience are murals of twilight landscapes, dimly illuminated by elegant lighting fixtures that lend a sense of richly detailed artifice. The raised stage appears as a rectangular box cut into the wall, a window into fictional lives.
Rabbit Hole, both in plot and staging, shares some important characteristics with Shining City, which played at the Jungle to great acclaim this winter—and Rabbit Hole succeeds for many of the same reasons. Both plays feature characters coping with the death of loved ones, coping stoically but not without the occasional indulgence in dark humor. As with Shining City, Rabbit Hole takes place in a single room of a single dwelling, and in both cases the set designers have created sets that, for the limited size of the Jungle’s stage, convey a remarkably real sense of connection to larger offstage spaces.
The death being coped with in Rabbit Hole is that of a four-year-old boy who chased his dog into the street at a tragically unfortunate moment. Lindsay-Abaire, who earned a 2006 Tony nomination for this play, earns his audience’s attention merely by holding the boy’s parents before us as they struggle to recover from their loss. The closest thing to a conventional plot arc involves the young man who was driving the car in the deadly accident as he tries to communicate his regret to the parents of his accidental victim.
This material demands performances of great subtlety. Amy McDonald and Lee Mark Nelson, as the boy’s parents, are both up to the task. Nelson is particularly impressive in the coiling of his futile rage, which increasingly threatens to break out. Maggie Chestovich and Nancy Marvy, as McDonald’s sister and mother, provide dramatic and comic foils; both relish in the tension-breaking one-liners Lindsay-Abaire puts in their characters’ mouths. If the laughs are occasionally overplayed—well, perhaps that’s understandable. As the adage has it, “we laugh, that we may not cry.”