Goodman Theatre (see Resident companies). By David Lindsay-Abaire. Dir. Steve Scott. With Lia D. Mortensen, Daniel Cantor, Amy Warren, Mary Ann Thebus.
In his domestic drama about a couple mourning the accidental death of their four-year-old son, David Lindsay-Abaire provides glimpses of how grief exceeds both the griever and the language of grieving. We get those glimpses usually not when the wife, Becca (Mortensen), and the husband, Howie (Cantor), speak alone to each other, but when they’re joined by Becca’s free-spirited sister, Izzy (Warren), and her straight-shooting mom, Nat (Thebus). In part that’s owing to the wondrous Warren and Thebus, both in fine, top-of-the-line form. But it’s also owing to the less predictable ways Lindsay-Abaire pens these secondary characters (bar-fighting Izzy’s pregnancy, Nat’s humorous take on the plane-crashing Kennedys). Through Izzy and Nat’s indirect relationships to the couple’s loss, the playwright thus addresses that loss more indirectly and more truthfully.
Yet when tackling the couple’s grief head-on, the writing is paradoxically too on-point and too off-point. Of course, Rabbit concerns yuppies highly trained in emotional articulation. But it’s as if their language somehow could contain grief’s uncontainable spillage. And that, like the resolution-seeking ending, feels just too easy. Like last fall’s Vigils, Rabbit is part of an American theater that replaces the tragic with the therapeutic. Rather than identifying, as we do in tragedy, with a protagonist whose death we experience partly as our own, we instead increasingly identify with characters who recover from either death denied or someone else’s death. It’s of a piece with a mortality-rejecting culture: We don’t experience loss and its finality; we get over it.—Novid Parsi