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Laughter, tears found inside ‘Rabbit Hole’

Yes, audiences will cry during “Rabbit Hole.” But they also will laugh.

Director Nick Mulichak stressed the latter when talking about David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opens Friday for a two-weekend run at Hopewell Theatre.

The play focuses on a couple dealing with the accidental death of their 4-year-old son. In addition to winning the Pulitzer, the play received five Tony Award nominations during its 2006 Broadway run, and it was adapted into a film in 2010 starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhardt.

“A lot of folks I’ve talked to, the first question is, ‘Is it a sad show? Is it going to make me cry?,'” Mulichak said. “I always tell folks it’s not about a dead kid. It’s not about death at all. It’s about living, the resilience of the human spirit to endure and to move on.

“It’s funny. There are very funny parts. These people make me laugh every night. I just try to assure people, it’s not a sad play. Yes, it will make you cry, but it also will make you laugh. It will make you feel things, and you’ll talk about it for a very long time afterwards.”

Two different friends approached Mulichak, who frequently directs and appears in Hopewell productions, about staging “Rabbit Hole,” which was previously done locally at the Oakland Center for the Arts in 2009.

“I’m always a little hesitant when someone comes to me and says, ‘Hey, we want you to do this,’ because it might just not be my style,” he said. “When I heard it — I’m an auditory person. I can’t just read something, I have to hear it too – I got chills … It’s just moving.”

The two people who initially approached Mulichak were interested in appearing in the show. It turned out neither was able to do it.

“That was kind of panic inducing because I won’t do a show unless I know we can cast it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I precast. I don’t … We put out the call and because it’s such a well-known show and such a phenomenal show, we got a really good turnout. Three of my four principal older actors are professional actors. They just love the show and wanted to do it.

“They came in and read just individually, and then for callbacks I had them come in as a group. It’s such an ensemble show. You’ve seen those shows with a husband and wife with just no chemistry. And most of this cast looks like relatives, that they could all be in the same family.”

The cast features Stephanie Chavara and Brandon Donaldson as Becca and Howie, the couple whose son is killed. Wendy Wygant plays Becca’s sister, Molly Galano is her mother and Ethan Rodriguez is cast as the teen who is responsible for the boy’s death.

Mulichak credited the cast and Lindsay-Abaire’s writing with keeping the story from turning maudlin.

“The script does a great job of balancing that,” he said. “The dialogue, the whole thing is very natural and pulls you in. You get sucked in and forget you are watching a play. We don’t throw in those tropes and we don’t want to beat people over the head with tears. We don’t need that. Yeah, it’s a sad premise, but it’s really about everything that happens after that, the healing and the moving on.”

If you go …

WHAT: “Rabbit Hole”

WHEN: 7:30 Friday and Saturday through June 22 and 2 p.m. June 23

WHERE: Hopewell Theatre, 702 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and senior citizens and can be ordered online at

hopewelltheatre.org.

Have an interesting story? Contact Andy Gray by email at agray@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.

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