Tag Archives: Joanne Sarazen

Guest blogger’s report on “Rabbit Hole” Talkback, April 20

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).

“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!

*****     *****      ******

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!

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Raves for “Rabbit Hole”

It’s a tough sell – any play about grief or loss or terminal illness… you get the picture.  A play about parents dealing with the barely-comprehensible tragedy of losing a child, well it takes a brave audience to go there.

Full disclosure:  I am not a parent.  As an actor, I did audition for the role of Becca, the grieving mother in Rabbit Hole, because it’s a fantastic part and I absolutely adored David Lindsay-Abaire’s script, which deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production, directed by Paul Hardy, just opened on Friday (April 11), and the audience response after only two performances has been amazing.  Here are a few samples:

“Beautifully acted, elegantly directed production of a moving play. Don’t miss it!”

“…a very moving and often unexpectedly hilarious show!”

“This play was sooo good! Really powerful and real, very sad but funny too. Loved it, highly recommend it!”

“…a brilliant play… It is poignant yet there is a wonderful levity to it too, despite its dark subject matter. The themes and subtext have been rolling around in my brain since I watched it last night… a great production.”

“A talented cast. Very well done.”

“So much substance! So much food! So good! Last night I fell down the Rabbit Hole at Alumnae Theatre and I will be digesting for some time. Go!”

Yes, go!  You will be transported into the family life of Becca (Paula Schultz) and Howie (Cameron Johnston), eight months after the sudden death of their only child, 4-year old Danny.   The actors, including Joanne Sarazen as Becca’s sister Izzy and Sheila Russell as their mother Nat, are perfectly real.  It’s like you know these people; you’re sitting in their very real kitchen (kudos to set designer Jacqueline Costa and the tech wizards who arranged running water onstage!) or sunken living room  eating cake and chatting.  Schultz has the brittle, dry-eyed quality of a woman barely holding it together as she navigates the pointless wasteland her life has become.  When she accuses her husband of thinking she’s “not grieving enough for you”, you can feel the pain of both parents.

Must particularly mention the scene transitions.  Sometimes they can be awkward moments in semi-darkness when actors or stagehands move furniture or place props for the next scene.  In this production of Rabbit Hole,  Hardy has the actors smoothly pick up props, replace a chair into position, etc.  in a sort of gentle dream-state. Meanwhile, Angus Barlow’s original compositions perfectly underscore the moment. As Hardy hoped, “the music is like a character onstage who speaks when silence falls over the performers.”   Exactly.  The silent moment at the end of the play is just stunning.

So’s the whole thing, actually. But you can see for yourself – Rabbit Hole runs to April 26.  Tickets can be purchased online at www.alumnaetheatre.com, or check the site for other options.  There’s a 2pm matinee today – no reservations required, and it’s PWYC.  RUN!

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“Rabbit Hole” opens on Friday!

David Lindsay-Abaire (don’t sneer – he was born David Abaire in working-class South Boston, but he and his wife, an actress formerly known as Christine Lindsay, both use the hyphenated surname) won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Rabbit Hole. This play was quite a departure for him – his previous works tended to be dark comedies – Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo, Wonder of the World – and although they “did mostly really well” , the playwright noted that “certain critics dismissed them out of hand for being ridiculous and absurdist and cartoon-y.”

He attended prestigious schools like Julliard and Sarah Lawrence College on scholarship. At Julliard, his instructors included playwrights Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman. It was Norman who urged him to “write about what scares you most”. At the time, Lindsay-Abaire was in his early 20s and “honestly didn’t know what that was”.  But after the birth of his son, he heard stories of parents who had lost a child. “I put myself in their shoes — and I experienced fear in a way I never had“, he says. The result was the award-winning Rabbit Hole, which allowed Lindsay-Abaire to “flex muscles I’d never used before as a writer. I had this whole new toolbox at my disposal.”

A few years later, he adapted his play into a screenplay. The 2010 film starred Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as the grieving parents.

Rabbit Hole-website bannerPaul Hardy directs this production of Rabbit Hole for Alumnae Theatre Company. I asked him about the design concepts and he responded:

Our design goals with Rabbit Hole were to create as much detailed reality inside of the theatre as possible. The general concept of the set [designed by Jacqueline Costa] was a dollhouse.  We hoped to create the perception of looking inside a real house – as though the walls have been lifted.

[Composer/Sound Designer] Angus [Barlow] created music based on iconic synth-based film soundtracks of the 90’s. American Beauty, Six Feet Under, and True Romance served as inspiration for me.  We hoped the music would give help us keep the energy of the scenes thoughout the changes. It’s like a character onstage who speaks when silence falls over the performers.

Rabbit Hole - Becca & Izzy

Rehearsal photo (taken by director Paul Hardy) of Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of “Rabbit Hole”. Paula Schultz as Becca; Joanne Sarazen (on stairs) as Izzy.

I haven’t seen any rehearsals but have peeked in at the impressive dollhouse-like set (with an upstairs level!), and absolutely adored the script. It was smart and spare, and so real. It’s easy to imagine you know these people – Becca and Howie, struggling to come to terms with this tragedy (the play begins 8 months after their son’s death) and figure out how they can relate to each other although they show their grief in different ways.   Becca’s party-girl sister Izzy, who’s got more depth than one might initially think. Becca’s mother Nat, who tries to comfort her bereaved daughter and just can’t do it right.  And Jason, the boy who – well, anyway…

The Author’s Note in the script made me laugh.  “It’s a sad play,” he writes. “Don’t make it any sadder than it needs to be.  Avoid sentimentality and histrionics at all costs…. there are, I hope, many funny parts in the play. They are important. Especially to the audience… Don’t ignore the jokes. They are your friends.”

So do enjoy Rabbit Hole, and do laugh at the jokes. It runs April 11 – 26, with performances Wed – Sat at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm. There’s a Talkback with cast and director following the matinee on April 20.

Purchase tickets online at www.alumnaetheatre.com; or reserve at 416-364-4170, xtn 1 and pay cash (2-for-1 Wed; $20 Thu/Fri/Sat; PWYC Sun) at Box Office.


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audience & critics comment on “The Killdeer”

“This show really had me. I was reeled in. Strange and quite absorbing. Very nicely acted, beautifully lit and perfect off-kilter music and sound design. Elements of archetypal fairy tale stuff, Shakespearean devices all make this quite a wonderful outing. Best to [director] Barbara Larose and her team.  Definitely worth checking out this Canadian play.” – AUDIENCE MEMBER


 “The play revolves around a murder mystery but it’s much more than that. It’s about small towns and gossip, about parents and children and coming of age, about enduring relationships, about love and jealousy, all timeless themes.  …During the scene between Harry Gardner (Paul Hardy) and his about-to-be ex-wife Vernelle (Joanne Sarazen) you could almost see the electricity, the energy between the audience and the stage.”  – MOONEYonTHEATRE
 Mooney also singles out a couple of other cast members for special mention:  “..the two that stayed in my mind are Naomi Vondell as Mrs. Soper, the jailer’s wife. Her performance was lyrical, she seemed to be floating, almost ethereal. The other is Michael Vitorovich as Mr Manatee, the terrifying hangman.”
“Alumnae Theatre has done students and friends of Canadian drama an invaluable service by reviving James Reaney’s first play The Killdeer (1960). …The play is important not just for launching Reaney’s career as a playwright but for providing the first example of what would later be called Southwestern Ontario Gothic that finds strange and lurid doings beneath the seemingly placid façade of small town life.  …Marysia Bucholc’s set does much to remind us we are not quite in the realm of realism.  …While the story is complex and the characters seem to speak in riddles, once you reach the surprising conclusion, you realize clearly that a search for the one’s family, one’s self, one’s identity is what the play has been about since the very beginning.  …The Killdeer should be better known and we can only be thankful that a company like the Alumnae Theatre has chosen to bring its richness and importance back to our attention.”  – STAGE-DOOR (Christopher Hoile)
 Hoile  praises Blythe Haynes [as Rebecca] for  “effortlessly maintaining the balance between poetry and realism throughout the play”, and notes that  “Tricia Brioux [as Madam Fay] gives an absolutely fiery performance as a human being whose inner torment causes her to become an embodiment of evil. ”


 Intrigued yet?  Catch the show up to April 27.  There’s a Talkback session with director, designers and cast following the Sunday matinee on April 21.  http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213killdeer.html

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