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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
RABBIT
at 59E59 Theaters (off-Broadway)

WHAT'S UP DOC?
By David Lefkowitz

  Charlotte Randle,Adam James, Ruth Everett

The English have a knack for cranking out plays about dinner parties gone awry. Alan Ayckbourn started the ball rolling, followed by Mike Leigh, who found a home off-Broadway with such oddly compelling, if uncomfortable, works as Goose-Pimples and Abigail's Party. Typically, Leigh populates his parties with brash boors who take out their aggression on shyer types. By evening's end, the celebration has slid pretty close to tragedy, or at the very least a depressing resignation.

In her Rabbit, now on view as part of the 2007 Brits Off-Broadway Festival, Nina Raine takes the Leigh formula and reverses it. The prickly people are still there, and they cut to the chase with harsh truths, insults and disdain right from the get-go. However, in the second act, rather than ugliness triumphing, the vibe turns more temperate, bygones are bygones, and grudges are put aside when a true emotional crisis strikes the lead character.

Unfortunately, this tonal shift doesn't come with much of a narrative thrust, so the second half of Rabbit turns talky and static. It's a shame, because the end of the first act sets up any number of possibilities for fireworks.

Bella's invited over two ex-boyfriends: her serious longtime partner Richard (Adam James), and Tom (Alan Westaway), the younger man with whom she had an affair while she and Richard were still together. Both men know they're her exes, so antipathy's there from the start, but only halfway through does each realize the other man was the other man during their relationship with Bella (Charlotte Randle). Adding spice are Sandy, Bella's sarcastic close friend who loathes Richard, and Emily (Ruth Everett), a charming doctor who serves as both a potential flirtation for the men and as a sane oasis when the mud starts flying.

However, for all the potential to heat act one's boiling resentments to scalding, Raine then chooses to focus on Bella's relationship with her dad (Hilton McRae), shown mostly in brief flashbacks. Resentful because he frequently cheated on her mother, angry because he refuses to get an operation to remove his terminal tumor, Bella spends the latter part of the party tearful and distracted, guilty for not spending what could be her father's last hours with him at the hospital.

The cast is, without exception, spot-on. The situation is believable and, as penned and briskly staged by Raine, quite absorbing. And yet, by the end, not enough has gone on to truly merit our investment in the characters. Emily brings up a nice metaphor about our recollection of memories, likening it to "a room full of tuning forks. ...[They] set vibrations off in all the other tuning forks that were on its frequency." If only Raine had amplified the vibrations pinging off her characters instead of muting them for pathos, Rabbit might have hopped toward the finish line instead of petering out.

 

 

 

 


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