Rabbit Hole

August 31, 2007 at 6:28 am (Uncategorized)

Courtesy of his parents (thank you, Katie and Peter), Llew and I went to see this David Lindsay-Abaire play, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, last night at the Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli. It’s what might be called a quietly devastating story of a family struggling to come to terms with the death of a small child. Death is rarely a cheery topic, but there is surprising humour in this play, although the old biddy who kept shooting dark scowls our way clearly didn’t think so. She was not amused. And maybe she had a point. Maybe I was cackling a little louder than necessary thanks to the very agreeable bottle of Pinot Llew and I put away with our pre-theatre pub meal.

Regardless, families definitely are funny, and death is easier to bear if you can find some kind of light relief somewhere. I know I laughed loud and long over my beloved Granddad’s body upon being told he, a mechanical engineer in his working life, wanted his coffin carted to the crematorium on the back of a tow-truck. And if that doesn’t sound very funny to you, consider the fact that he got his wish.

Of course, the death of a child is acutely unfunny. It’s devastating conceptually and in reality. It’s against the natural order of things. And Rabbit Hole is wrenching enough on this point that I bawled during the performance. Twice. A few of the performances were really outstanding: Queenie Van De Zandt in the role of Izzy, Jonathan Prescott in the role of Jason, and Lorraine Bayly, a real standout as the forever-tippling Nat. I didn’t even recognise her. She was really great. Georgie Parker was tolerable in the role of bereft mother Becca, but Mark Kilmurry as Howie, Becca’s husband and the grieving father, was pretty dreadful. Everyone else seemed so well cast… he wasn’t. As Llew noted, the role should have been given to a man of imposing physical stature. And you know, I think he’s absolutely right. Seeing a really big man broken is both shocking and deeply traumatic on some basic level. As it was, Kilmurry couldn’t shoulder the pain properly, and he floundered.

There was one other thing that grated, and that was the American accents. I understand the play is set in America, and some of the idiom is recognisably American (eg the use of ‘cookout’ instead of ‘barbeque’), but can’t these things be adapted for an Australian stage? Change the location names etc and then allow the actors to speak in their own accents? It just jarred, especially when they dropped into ‘Aussie’ from time to time. I couldn’t help but feel they were all having to concentrate so hard on sounding Yankee that their performances suffered. The same thing happened in Love-Lies-Bleeding, Don DeLillo’s brilliant latest play (and if Rabbit Hole is a Pulitzer Prize winner, I only want to know when DeLillo is getting his). Maybe the standard of the acting was better in L-L-B, because it didn’t irritate me listening to an all-Australian cast affect all-American accents, but it sure as shit irritated me last night (maybe it was that darned Pinot again…).

But thinking of both plays now, and actually again with Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig, it does make me wonder. Is it normal to adopt the accent of the play’s country of origin? Surely not. I’ve certainly never noticed this trend with Chekhov productions. Nor with Ibsen. So why are we doing it with the Americans?

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