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How to get by

Going through, not down, the Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole tries to avoid confrontation. Photo credit: Tacoma Little Theatre

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The story of a married couple dealing with deep waters of grief is one that's been explored a staggering number of times. Usually, this topic is dealt with in the somber way that you'd think of when contemplating how you'd react to loss. Sometimes, as is the case with Lars Von Trier's harrowing, transgressive Antichrist, it becomes quite clear that there are just some things from which a relationship just can't bounce back. Rabbit Hole is an unusual entry into this subject matter, precisely because it arrives at the most difficult moment: the time when you just need to heal and get back to your life.

We meet Becca and Howie (Alissa Cattabriga and Jed Slaughter, respectively) eight months after the sudden death of their 4-year-old child. Before we know about the tragedy, which is only gradually revealed, the tension we sense between them - and between Becca and her little sister, Izzy (Elena Martinez) - is easy to interpret as the tension that can naturally exist between people who have known each other for a long time. It's in these first couple scenes that Rabbit Hole begins to distinguish itself. From scene to scene, Rabbit Hole straddles the line between drama and banter-y domestic comedy.

The play has a way of suddenly pivoting on its heels, as in scenes where Becca's mother (Dana Galagan) delivers an oddball monologue about JFK conspiracy theories to the sudden breakdown of conversation and the confrontation that a child has been lost, and he will never come back.

Much of the drama comes from how Becca and Howie are each handling things differently. Howie desperately wants to get everything back on track, to make love to his wife again, to maybe even have another child; Becca, meanwhile, is concerned with erasing every reminder of her child that exists in the house, and bristles at Howie's cheerfulness.

This is tough material to make fly, made even tougher by the curious shifts in tone that define the form of the play. It takes a talented cast to navigate these turns, and Tacoma Little Theatre's Rabbit Hole has mostly found their cast in good shape. As Becca, Cattabriga is wonderfully naturalistic and sympathetic in a role that must be difficult not to make seem overly cold. Galagan is heartbreaking as a woman who is also devastated at the loss of her grandson, but must always take a backseat to her daughter's misery, and Elena Martinez is very effective as Izzy, the voice of reason. As Howie, Jed Slaughter is the only one who comes across as stiff, though that may be the fault of the writing.

Rabbit Hole's overarching point seems to be that loss is messy business, and that there's no right way to come out on the other side. At first, our sympathies do lie with Howie, who's just trying to make the best of a bad situation; by the end, it becomes clear that healing comes at different speeds, and that nobody can be expected to react perfectly. What would that even look like?

Rabbit Hole, Oct. 23-Nov. 8, Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m., Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281

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