I was out of town for the traditional second-Sunday post-matinee Talkback, so this report is courtesy of guest blogger Pona Tran, who has worked as Assistant Stage Manager on a couple of Alumnae Theatre Company productions (The Trojan Women and Cosî) as well as acting in two of my short plays for Gay Play Day and other occasions. Thanks, Pona!
“Rabbit Hole” cast & director at post-show Talkback, Sun April 20, 2014: with Cameron Johnston (Howie), director Paul Hardy, Christopher Manousos (Jason), Paula Schultz (Becca), Joanne Sarazen (Izzy) and Sheila Russell (Nat).
Producer Brenda Darling and director Paul Hardy joined the five actors onstage. What follows are highlights from the Talkback – as best as I could capture.
Brenda introduced Rabbit Hole as an Alumnae favourite, and provided the leading question:
Q: (Brenda): Question for Paul. You wanted this to be a naturalistic set. [Set design is by Jacqueline Costa] Questions like “At what level should the drawers in the kitchen be placed? Where do people keep their cutlery?” were considered. Why was that important?
A (Paul): This is not my typical style. But the play really called for and demanded it. We needed to show the family as clearly and with as much realism as possible. The action of eating, folding, and doing really gives it its strength. The play is about watching people living, so that concept was the motivation.
Q: Question for each of the actors: How do your characters change from the beginning of the show to the end of the show?
A (Paula Schultz): For Becca, there aren’t any huge changes, but the ones that she goes through are very much about finding some comfort. She finds it (through Jason) in the most unexpected place, and in the most unexpected way. It was a release and one of the big things for her and her journey.
A (Christopher Manousos): It’s similar for Jason; the comfort, the closure. It was an accident, it was left at odds, and he wasn’t sure how to go on with the rest of his life. Coming to this family changes things for him.
A (Cameron Johnston): For Howie, the driving force or goal was to make some sort of connection with Becca. Most of his changes happen offstage: the group is not helping him anymore. For him, it’s the difference between being there and not being there (the support group).
A (Sheila Russell): I think Nat’s very concerned about her daughter, and that her daughter finds some comfort. Nat has been able to deal with her grief in her own way, but she was concerned about her daughter finding some way to deal with her grief. She wants her to let go. There’s a nice resolution at the end where Nat has become closer to Becca and that’s something she would have wanted. They are different characters and they are not alike at all, but they come to some sort of understanding, so she’s happy that Becca has found some comfort in the journey.
A (Joanne Sarazen): For Izzy, it’s the pregnancy and what follows that. Having the baby turns her from a fly-by-night creature into a more stable person, and lets her bond with Becca despite the bad timing.
Q: How much experience do you have/ What research did you do to prepare to play characters who are dealing with the loss of a child? It hit the spot, it was overwhelming, but you didn’t overdo it. What did you do to make it so real?
A (Paula): It was a big source of anxiety for me coming into this, not being a mother. It is such a particular loss. It’s the unspeakable loss that no one knows how to talk about, because it’s just so awful. While it was a very particular loss, grief is grief. We talked to friends and family. I have a good friend whose family lost a young boy to an accident and she was very generous to talk about it. She discovered Rabbit Hole and said it helped her understand something about her family that was never spoken about.
A (Paul): I think the research is in the piece itself; it was all done by the playwright [David Lindsay-Abaire]. He created a rich portrayal of the experience and how the family deals with it. For me, the main push of research was just the piece itself and making every moment live.
Q: I really liked the way the lighting and music bended with the play. It gave a nice atmosphere. Each character had a lot of courage in the way that they handled the situation. They were true to life, and they had good and bad moments. This reminded me that in dealing with grief, you need that courage to go on on a day-to-day basis. I don’t know if each character realized how much courage they were showing.
Q (Paul to the actors): Do you think your character showed courage?
A (Christopher): Not mine.
A (Joanne): Is there a difference between courage and balls?
A (Paul): Well despite everything, Izzy tells everyone that they all have to get it together, and that she’s not going to accept the destruction of her life and her birthday party.
Q: Have you seen previous productions or watched the movie, and did that influence you in terms of the sound choices?
A (Paul): I’ve never seen the film. The sound is all original composition. The dog, dryer buzzer, the TV, etc. is called for in the script, but the music is original [by Angus Barlow], and creates a nice soundscape for the play.
Q: The music is so evocative, and we’re always talking about using it on stage for atmosphere. As actors, did you find yourself using it?
A (Christopher): I know it’s there, but I just kept doing what I’m doing.
A (Sheila): Same for me.
A (Cameron): It’s just there, as part of the scene. I allow it to affect me.
A (Joanne and Paula): We both use it.
A (Paula): We open the play, and we wait for it to come on, to set the atmosphere.
A (Joanne): It has weight to it but it’s not emotionally manipulative. You can listen to it and respect it, but it doesn’t manipulate you.
Four more chances to catch Rabbit Hole – Wed to Sat at 8pm. Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wed; $20 on other nights. Reserve seats and pay cash on arrival by emailing Reservations@alumnaetheatre.com , or purchase tickets online at www.alumnaetheatre.com. Closing Sat April 26th!
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Pona mentions in her notes that at one point director Paul Hardy asked the audience for a show of hands: “Who thought that Howie was cheating on his wife?” and also “Who thinks that Becca and Howie stayed together?”. Darn – would have liked to know the count on those answers!