REVIEW:  Down True Repertory Theatre’s winding and thought provoking ‘Rabbit Hole’

Grief is just love with nowhere to go.

It can be getting too close while saying too much and then not enough.  Holding on too tight or letting go too fast.  What to do not knowing what to do and finding where to meet in the middle.

Starring and insightfully directed by Victoria Bond, True Rep Theatre’s latest production was David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning play, Rabbit Hole which was onstage for one weekend only from Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26 at the Beal House in Kingston, Massachusetts.  Hope Floats in Kingston partnered with True Repertory Theatre for Rabbit Hole.  Click here for more information and for more about True Rep Theatre.

Victoria Bond as Becca and Julie Butler in True Rep’s ‘Rabbit Hole’ Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Rabbit Hole examines the aftermath of an unimaginable tragedy for a struggling family and all who are connected to it on a journey through loss.  It explores a variety of ways in which conflict can arise from miscommunication, loneliness, and the uncertain future.  It also has moments of humor, but Lindsay-Abaire’s meaty script seems to have metaphorically placed everyone on their own grieving life raft as each individual attempts to keep each other afloat.

Songs by Al Green, Florence and the Machine, Matt Alber, Damien Jurado and Gary Jules are just a few of the artists that enhance the show’s complicated beauty and the semi-immersive set draws the audience further into its engrossing content.  The Beal House, without a bad set, features a functioning kitchen which flows seamlessly through each of True Rep’s distinctive productions.  Colin Gaynor’s sweet vocals lends to the show’s stirring sound design.

Rabbit Hole features an intimate cast that delivers powerful and intense performances and it is difficult to imagine these actors not feeling emotionally depleted after each show.  Victoria Bond both directs and stars as Becca, a normally levelheaded wife devastated over the sudden death of her young son. 

Some of Rabbit Hole’s eloquence is that it does not take place prior to a tragedy, but months later on a day not unlike any other day.  This renowned play is a mass of subtle intricacies that seem small, but pack a wallop.  With a somewhat slumped walk and a reticent and sullen voice, Bond melts into the role of an anxious and irritable perfectionist Becca with ingenuity and a creeping tension just below the surface.  It is a relatable portrait of a worn mother struggling to hold on while searching for a way forward.

Victoria Bond as Becca and Donald Sheehan in ‘Rabbit Hole’ Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Donald Sheehan depicts Becca’s husband Howard who is coping with his son’s death differently.   With a feigned smile and with greater openness than his wife, Sheehan treads carefully for Becca’s sake.  Having seen the 2010 film of the same name, Howard was depicted as less likable than in this production.  However, Sheehan brings patience and greater understanding of his wife’s needs to the role, though their marriage is not without conflict.  Sheehan and Bond’s complicated relationship ebbs and flows unsteadily. 

On a lighter note, Julie Butler portrays Becca’s tough, aimless, but caring sister Izzy.  With blue, pink, and red hair and bold fashion sense, Butler’s blunt and edgy charm makes for some entertaining and comedic moments.  Butler has great chemistry with each dysfunctional family member and is a breath of fresh air within the show’s heavier content.  Lisa Caron Driscoll as Becca’s chatty and nagging mother Nat makes it easy to see where Izzy gets her outspoken demeanor.  However, Nat is also a pillar of strength and though Nat’s grief seems buried deep, Driscoll impressively unravels this multi-layered character inch by almost unendurable inch.   

Lisa Caron Driscoll as Nat and Victoria Bond as Becca Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Patrick McCarthy depicts sympathetic Jason with humbleness and an innate sincerity.  Through a shared persistence, McCarthy and Bond poignantly develop a bizarre and bittersweet connection on this heartrending journey.

True Rep Theatre’s latest production was David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning play, Rabbit Hole which was onstage for one weekend only from Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26 at the Beal House in Kingston, Massachusetts.  Hope Floats in Kingston partnered with True Repertory Theatre for Rabbit Hole.  Click here for more information and for more about True Repertory Theatre.

REVIEW:  True Repertory Theatre’s ‘Ellen’s Boys’ a heartwarming and heartrending family tale

Family life can get complicated and for the large Irish Catholic Flaherty family, complicated is an understatement.   Though Ellen’s Boys are a big part of this dramedy, the real center of this production lies in Ellen, the stubborn, pushy, and interfering Flaherty matriarch in a powerful performance by Victoria Bond.  Emotions run high with some typical family arguments and some not so typical, but the show shines a light on the hypocrisies (even the innocent ones) set by family that almost anyone can relate to.   

True Repertory Theatre’s ‘Ellen’s Boys’ logo Logo courtesy of Jim Sullivan/True Repertory Theatre

Partnering in part by GLSEN and directed insightfully by Donald Sheehan, True Repertory Theatre presented Jim Sullivan’s original dramedy, Ellen’s Boys, live and in person at the Beal House, 222 Main Street in Kingston, Massachusetts through March 27.  The show is approximately 2 hours with one intermission.  Click here for more information, upcoming auditions, and more. 

The ‘Ellen’s Boys’ set Photo courtesy of Jim Sullivan/True Repertory Theatre

The Ellen Boys’ set takes up a significant space at the Beal House so there’s not a bad seat for the audience.  As a photo of John F. Kennedy hangs on the wall, a tube television and vintage radio stand in the living room, and Andes mints sit in a crystal bowl on a doily, Ellen’s Boys successfully rewinds the clock back to December of 1965.  Based on playwright Jim Sullivan’s own vision of his grandmother’s house, the Beal House is home to a functional space with full kitchen off a retro-furnished living room as sacramental Catholic objects hang on the walls with framed portraits of family memories on a piano.  The show also sets a prominent Irish tone whether through the Celtic music between scenes, the Irish teapot on the dining room table, or through Flaherty sisters Ellen and Bridget’s rich Irish accents. 

Each character longs to break free in one’s own unique way and Ellen’s Boys has its share of heartwarming and heartrending moments within this animated family dynamic.  It seems the only one against evolution is Ellen Flaherty.   Victoria Bond could have easily depicted Ellen as a caricature of the classic pushy Irish mother in a house dress and apron who manipulates her way through grief and guilt, but as Bond breathes life into the character with finesse and humor, it is difficult to stay frustrated with Ellen for long. 

Lisa Caron Driscoll’s remarkable portrayal as Ellen’s fun loving, spontaneous and equally quick-tempered sister Bridget makes for some high drama between sisters displaying some tempestuous sibling rivalry.  They are alike in the ways that matter, though neither will admit it.

Donald Sheehan took both the director’s seat and a role as Ellen’s lonely and devoted son Gil.  Noonan strikes a delicate balance between sweet and exasperated as he holds onto the past in fear of the ramifications of his future.  Seemingly the opposite is Cammerron Baits as spontaneous and hard-partying Nathan.  In a multi-layered performance, Baits emotes fragility and earnestness under that impulsive façade.

Paul Noonan has a palpably eerie way of portraying the seemingly peaceful, helpful, yet enigmatic John Flaherty, Ellen’s son, while Oliver Henry Bellman is sweet and sympathetic as Patrick Walsh.  Noonan’s scenes with Julie Butler, in a bittersweet performance as dutiful and sensible sister Kathleen Doherty, made for some tough realizations as Kathleen pushes to break past John’s stoic nature.

Ellen’s Boys’ more lighthearted moments come in part from Sara McNulty as young and beautiful Tina Toccio whose self consciousness in front of Ellen and their various exchanges make for some dynamic comedy and also tense moments as they butt heads in their mutual stubbornness. With Cody Savoy as Ellen’s son, Michael, McNulty and Savoy also deliver some lighter moments and heartwarming chemistry together.

Though Ellen’s Boys runs a little long, through all of the drama, the complications, the heartache, and family outbursts because you simply can’t hold your tongue another second longer at the dinner table, what a relief to finally be understood.