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‘Rabbit Hole’ beautifully told and acted

YOUNGSTOWN — In the first act of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Rabbit Hole,” Nat says, “People want things to make sense.”

Nothing makes less sense than the accidental death of a child, and the accident that occurs before the play starts reverberates through the drama, which opened Friday at Hopewell Theatre.

A supremely talented cast and sure-handed direction of Nick Mulichak create a powerful viewing experience. It’s a profoundly sad story, but Mulichak and the cast are able find the moments of levity that Lindsay-Abaire has inserted into his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, keeping it from being a chore to sit through and avoiding easy tears by delivering a story filled with prickly and sometimes contradictory emotions.

The play starts several months after the death of Becca’s and Howie’s 4-year-old son Danny, who ran into the road chasing their family’s dog and ended up being hit by a car.

Each is consumed with grief but dealing with it in different ways. Howie (Brandon Donaldson) is going to support groups and going through the steps grieving parents are supposed to follow. Becca (Stephanie Chavara) is trying to eliminate the constant reminders of Danny — taking down the refrigerator art, exiling the dog to live with her mother, Nat (Molly Galano) — but everything is a reminder of that loss.

The newest reminder is news from her sister Izzy (Wendy Wygant) that she is pregnant. Chavara’s and Wygant’s performances allow the audience to feel and fill in the history of these two characters, and they along with Galano and Donaldson make these four people feel like family with a long history in the way they banter and the way they react to the unintentional slights and the intentional barbs. They don’t feel like four actors brought together a couple of months ago when rehearsals started.

Wygant and Galano also inject some much needed humor in the play, whether it’s Izzy’s discussion of a barroom encounter or Nat’s alcohol-fueled dissertation on the curse of the Kennedy clan. Their performances not only bring the show some much needed levity, but they illuminate the individual characters and the family dynamics.

The set design by Mulichak and Rosalyn Blystone lets the audience see the living room, kitchen’s and Danny’s old bedroom at all times, which allows for beautifully staged moments like Becca curled up in a fetal position while her husband sits alone on the couch watching old family videos of their son. It visualizes how their mutual grief divides them.

Ethan Rodriguez has the smallest role in the production as Jason, the teenage driver behind the wheel when Danny was killed, but it’s just as complex as the adult characters. He’s also dealing with his own lingering grief, looking for reasons why he might be responsible despite being told there was nothing he could have done.

The scene he and Chavara share is one of the play’s strongest as it gives Becca an opportunity to mother someone dealing with his own version of this anguish. That, along with the science fiction story the teen wrote, allows her to start to find a way forward.

Mulichak and the cast deftly juggle the play’s disparate elements to create an impressive production.

If you go …

WHAT: “Rabbit Hole”

WHEN: 7:30 Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

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.

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