BWW Review: RABBIT HOLE at Dezart Performs

BWW Review: RABBIT HOLE at Dezart Performs

Dezart Performs has always aspired to quality rather than quantity in their productions, staging just three mainstage plays each season. I have never been disappointed with one of their shows, and it somehow seems that each new show tops all the ones that have preceded it. Rabbit Hole, the second production of their Gala Tenth Season, might just be the closest thing to a perfect production that I have seen in the Coachella Valley.

Start with the script, which garnered a Pulitzer Prize for playwright David Lindsay-Abaire in 2007. The play deals with the ways family members survive a major tragedy, and includes moments of comedy which relieve us from the angst of the underlying loss. The structure of primarily two-person scenes, tied together with group interchanges, shows a strong understanding of efficient storytelling. The duets allow us to more clearly understand each character as an individual.

The characters include Becca (Yo Younger), a Larchmont housewife; her somewhat irresponsible sister Izzy (Phylicia Mason); Becca's husband Howie (Michael Shaw), a commuting businessman; Becca's mother Nat (Deborah Harmon); and Jason (Jonathan Hatsios), a neighborhood teenager. Like a delicious meal, each ingredient is absolutely prime, and they have been expertly combined by director Scott Smith.

Younger must have one of the longest mantles in town to house her Desert Theatre League trophies, and her performance in this show will likely earn her another one. She is a beautiful, self-contained, middle class housewife who cannot externalize the grief she is experiencing as she goes through the mundane activities of daily life. The structure of the play places her in duet scenes with her sister, her husband, her mother, and eventually, a neighborhood teenager who innocently played a pivotal role in the family's tragedy. Like most of us, she displays a slightly different personae in each relationship, and skillfully shifts from spouse to sister to daughter to hostess/adult.

Michael Shaw, the company's Artistic Director, shows that he's every bit as capable center stage as he is pulling strings from the director's chair. His performance as Howie, the grieving husband, is so natural that you lose sight of the fact that he's acting. He's instantly relatable because he's just a real guy, saying real things, and that displays the apex of the actor's craft. As the play progresses, the one spouse that we thought had their grief-recovery together subtly reveals that perhaps that's not the case, and the spousal dynamics shift. Neither will ever truly heal, but hopefully each will find their own method of continuing on.

Phylicia Mason has once again proven herself to be one of the top young actresses in the valley as Becca's carefree sister, pregnant from the "great guy" she met a few weeks earlier, and willing to give up most of her drugs and alcohol to deliver a healthy child. Strongly avoiding stereotypes, she delivers a very rounded character who is in sharp contrast to her buttoned-down sister at almost every turn. The sisters show a familial love and respect, even as they demonstrate wildly different values. Similarly, Becca's mother, nicely played by Deborah Harmon, has her own set of values, but reaches out and compromises with both her daughters to retain the family unit, trying to sublimate her own problems to help Becca cope with her tragedy.

The role of the neighborhood boy, accidentally caught up in a tragedy of proportions that no teenager could conceive of, is heartbreakingly delivered by COD student Johnathan Hatsios. The boy wants to do the right thing, wants to help, wants to absolve himself of the guilt he feels for his role in the tragedy, but he simply doesn't know how. As the teenager stood in the doorway with his mouth working but no words coming out, I realized that tears were streaming down my face with the empathy that I felt for him.

The set by Thomas L. Valach is the nice Larchmont home of a successful couple, including kitchen, dining area, living room and upstairs bedroom. The refrigerator and cabinets in the kitchen are fully functional, so when a character needs a fork, they open a drawer and rummage through a silverware tray, enhancing the level of naturalism set by the performers. Phil Murphy's lighting and Frank Cazares' costumes succeed by focusing us on areas of the stage and informing us about the characters without calling undue attention to themselves (except, perhaps, for Izzy's opening club outfit, which is a hoot). I believe that Clark Dugger is the only sound designer in the valley who separates offstage sounds from the appropriate side of the stage. The dog barks from the back yard while the dryer buzzes from the laundry room, and that again adds to the credibility. Stage manager Diane McClure must be doing her job well because every technical detail went smoothly, and hats off to Dezart for using interns from PSHS backstage, giving them hands-on responsibilities alongside some of the valley's most professional performers.

Rabbit Hole is not always an easy ride -- the underlying tragedy is almost of Greek proportions - but the naturalism of the production invites the audience to figuratively sit on the sofa alongside these characters, watching how they resolve their grief, and wondering how we would handle a similar situation. It leaves the audience ruminating over what they would do, and that is one of the finest gifts of live theatre.

Rabbit Hole plays for one more weekend at the Pearl McManus Theatre in Palm Springs. Tickets and further information are available at

Photo by Clark Dugger

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From This Author Stan Jenson

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