|Patti Speight, Yelena King, Kelsey Ion (bottom) and Ryan Clifford, Grant Burton (top).Picture by Nicole Mae Photography|
By Tina Arth
Buy now, read later. In seven years of reviewing for Westside Theatre Reviews, covering almost 300 shows, I have offered this advice only once before, but Mask & Mirror’s “Unmasked” production of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning Rabbit Hole demands no less. The show is brilliantly written, directed, and acted – truly a must-see. However, the venue (Tualatin Heritage Center) is small, the $10 price a real bargain, and with only a two-week run there’s no time for hesitation – definitely buy tickets in advance if possible, since just showing up at the door may be risky.
Got your tickets? Good. Now you can read further:
Rabbit Hole has only five characters, each a dream role for serious actors. There’s Becca and Howie, grieving parents who have lost their 4-year-old son to a tragic traffic accident. There’s Becca’s exuberantly immature younger sister Izzy, who offers little solace to her sister as she grapples with her own issues. There’s Izzy and Becca’s mom, Nat, who drinks a bit too much and is still coping with the death of her son 11 years earlier. Finally, there’s Jason, the awkward and traumatized 17-year-old who was driving the car that hit young Danny; eight months later, he is still trying to come to grips with his sense of guilt and desperately seeking acceptance and recognition of his contrition. Rather than drawing together in adversity, each family member is isolated on a separate, lonely path to cope with the pain; it is only by finding their way back to each other that they begin to develop strategies for healing and moving forward. Despite the play’s dark foundations, ample humor breaks the tension, allowing the audience to fully engage with each character’s arc.
Yelena King’s “Becca” is heartbreakingly believable – brittle, rigidly controlled, judgmental, yet silently radiating grief that is consuming her. King’s precise delivery of a series of micro-aggressions against her sister, husband, and mother builds organically toward the confrontations that finally allow her release. Ryan Clifford’s “Howie” is a fine match – with all of the chemistry flowing from him toward his emotionally absent mate, Clifford finds a lovely balance between compassion, frustration, and attempts to address his own needs.
Kelsey Ion (as Izzy) bursts onto the scene like a lit firecracker, and her initially outlandish behavior captures the essence of the younger sister who can never match the achievements of a “perfect” sibling. Watching her organically develop into her own version of adulthood is a treat, and Ion’s effervescent take on maturity is as much a show highlight as her earlier flamboyance. Speaking of unusual versions of adulthood, Patti Speight is a hoot, providing a hefty dose of comic relief as the oddly disconnected Nat. More than any other character, Nat’s behavior seems completely out of touch with social norms – her rambling thesis about the Kennedy Curse is a gem, and Speight walks the fine line between tragicomedy and parody with aplomb.
I’ve saved for last an actor with the least stage time, but whose impact is gut-wrenchingly beautiful. 19-year-old Grant Burton (as Jason) creates an unforgettable character – and he gives the role a child-like sincerity and awkwardness that allows the audience (and Becca) to imagine Danny, both as he was and who he might have become. From his first appearance I was rooting for him to break through Becca’s veneer, and watching him succeed gives the whole show a unique and moving focus beyond the tragedy of a child’s death.
Sets are, as expected in the Heritage Center, minimal, but the use of the aisle and apron bring the entire show within touching distance of the audience and creates an intimacy that encapsulates the audience within the drama. A special note, something I rarely notice – Assistant Director Caitriona Johnston also gets credit in the program for hair. The evolution of Becca’s and Izzy’s coiffures through the show perfectly expresses the changes in their psyches as the story develops, and their hairdos silently reflect the two women’s movement from impossibly uptight and pathetically immature opposites toward gentle rapprochement.
By the time this review is posted, there may be only one week left for Rabbit Hole. Director Joe Silva and his superb cast deserve only full houses, and audiences will not find a better way to spend a few hours of their lives.
Mask & Mirror’s production of Rabbit Hole runs through Sunday, July 21 at the Tualatin Heritage Center, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30.