It sounds like a colossal bummer, a play about a married couple dealing with profound and lingering grief after their 4-year-old son is hit by a car and killed. “It’s not gloomy at all. There’s actually a lot of humor in this play,” says Carla Derr, director of the “Rabbit Hole” production opening Thursday at downtown Canton’s Kathleen Howland Theatre.
It sounds like a colossal bummer, a play about a married couple dealing with profound and lingering grief after their 4-year-old son is hit by a car and killed.
Yet “Rabbit Hole,” the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama, is more than two hours of anger, frustration and sorrow.
“It’s not gloomy at all. There’s actually a lot of humor in this play,” says Carla Derr, director of the “Rabbit Hole” production opening Thursday at downtown Canton’s Kathleen Howland Theatre. “The overall message is powerful and uplifting, that losing someone is a horrific thing but life goes on and people have to choose how they react to it.”
Brian Richeson, who plays Howie, the boy’s father, says, “You’re still alive, and you need that humor to get you through those times. The playwright did a real good job with that. (Humor) helps the audience to navigate through the play.”
The playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire, included notes in the script that “he doesn’t want people beating their breasts and screaming like it’s a tragedy,” Derr says. “It would be so easy to play it all sturm und drang, but we are playing things very level, on the normal side.”
Zen (aka Jen) Anderson, who plays Becca, the mother of the boy, says, “You are on a wave of heavy and then funny. The characters need humor to pick them up. I try very hard not to cry because it’s written that way. She breaks down once. The husband is the more emotional one. The wife is the one shutting it off. She’s just mad.”
It was Anderson who brought the “Rabbit Hole” script to Derr. The actress’ personal experience with grief stemmed from a husband walking out on her.
“When traumatic grief hits you and knocks you down, you go through the same things,” says Anderson, the mother of two teen boys and a 6-year-old daughter. “It’s very universal.”
Other cast members are Mary Lou Ianni as Becca’s mother, Heather Wylie-Elfae as Becca’s sister, and Jesse Devine as the teenager who drove the car that killed the boy.
“It’s a really good ensemble play. My favorites are the scenes when all four family members are onstage,” Richeson says. “The dialogue is so lifelike. It flows and it’s really rich. There are so many layers to each character.”
“Rabbit Hole” begins eight months after the little boy’s death. “They’ve had time to let it sink in,” Richeson says. “They’re definitely struggling. It’s not a tidy play that’s going to wrap up nice and neat at the end.”
The director speaks proudly of her players. “This is the best acting in Canton I’ve seen in ages,” Derr says. “The cast is powerful, and this is real tough stuff.”
Page 2 of 2 - “Rabbit Hole” is Richeson’s third Derr-directed production; the others were “Dirty Blonde” and “Bent,” both at the Players Guild. “She doesn’t mess around. She stays out of your way as an actor. She’s not after every single detail. She trusts you. She’s so good to her actors,” says Anderson, who last was directed by Derr in 1999 at the Guild in a play titled “Independence.”
Performances of “Rabbit Hole” will be at 8 p.m. Thursday and Jan. 13, and 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 14. Tickets, $10, may be ordered at 330-451-0924. The theater is at 324 Cleveland Ave. NW, under 2nd April Galerie. The matinee on Jan. 14 will include a post-performance discussion of grief with the cast members, Carol Reed of Reed Funeral Home, and Cathie Ellison, a counselor at GlenOak High School.
• Voices of Canton Inc. will present “Titanic: The Musical,” a Broadway show is concert format, at 8 p.m. June 2 and 3 p.m. June 3 at the Lions Lincoln Theatre in downtown Massillon. Tickets, $25, $20 and $15, may be ordered at www.voicesofcanton.org and 330-455-1000. The 100th anniversary on the Titanic sinking is April 15.
• Confirmed performers for the 25th annual Alive Festival, happening June 20 through 23 at Atwood Lake Park, include Skillet, Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, Red, Family Force 5, Sanctus Real, Anberlin, Thousand Foot Krutch and the O.C. Supertones. For full details, visit www.alive.org.
• Carol Starre-Kmiecik will portray the late Cleveland TV journalist Dorothy Fuldheim for the Massillon Museum’s monthly Brown Bag Lunch at 12:10 p.m. Jan. 24. The program will conclude about 12:50 p.m. to accommodate those who wish to attend during the lunch hour. The event is free and open to everyone. Those attending may bring a sack lunch, purchase food from the Chit Chat Coffee Shoppe, and enjoy complimentary coffee and cookies.