Left to right: cast members Mimo Reynolds, Tasha Ames, Katherine Ross, Sharon Gardner and Jeffrey Doornbos give a bow at the end of opening night in Malibu. Photo by Devon Meyers / TMT

Superb acting in ‘Rabbit Hole’ makes one forget it’s ‘just a play’

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

For some, the combination of humor and grief can be simulated to that of oil and vinegar; they just don’t mix. But the performance of “Rabbit Hole” at the Malibu Stage Company theater might just make them change their minds.

The play is directed and produced by longtime Malibu resident Graeme Clifford, a renowned film editor and director, and features a cast including acclaimed actress Katharine Ross, Sharon Gardner, Jeffrey Doornbos, Tasha Ames and Mimo Reynolds.

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, “Rabbit Hole” tells the story of an accidental trag edy caused by Jason Willette (Reynolds) that takes its toll on the Corbett family: the mother, Becca (Gardner); the father, Howie (Doornbos); Becca’s flighty sister, Izzy (Ames); and their occasionally overbearing mother, Nat (Ross). It is an inside look at how each family member copes with loss. Despite the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning play’s calamitous plot, it is well known for its humorous irony that has long left audiences bursting with laughter and, in this case, stunned by the talent of the cast.

The play’s onstage success relies heavily on the skills of its actors, who must make smooth, emotional transitions from points of extreme hilarity to those of deep sadness in very small windows of time. Fortunately for the audience, this cast of “Rabbit Hole” does that, and more.

With virtually no change in set design or setting, (the entire play takes place in the Corbetts’ house), the five actors are a reminder of the simple magnificence of great theater.

Ross delivers an impeccable performance as Nat, an unintentionally funny character whose red-wine-fueled rants about whatever happens to be bothering her, like the ill-fated Kennedy family, leaves audience members rolling in the aisles.

Gardner and Doornbos are nothing short of amazing in their portrayal of a married couple struggling to reconnect in the aftermath of an unforeseen tragedy. Both express emotions so raw that one almost forgets they are acting.

Izzy (Ames) had theatergoers laughing within the first 20 seconds of the play with her comically animated retelling of a bar fight she was involved in the night before.

Also impressive was the acting and melodic talent of Reynolds, a Malibu High School student, who wrote all the original music for the production. Reynolds’ music, featuring piano, reflects the depth with which he understands the story. Like the scenes of the play, the music is quiet and domestic. There are no grandiose, dramatic explosions, just the daily interaction between individuals who can barely speak to one another without getting into an argument.

The story is far from a downer, and if this performance of “Rabbit Hole” may feel heavy at times, it’s only because of the superb acting that makes many audience members forget it’s “just a play.”

“Rabbit Hole” runs through March 1, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, at the Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway. Tickets are $20 and can be obtained by calling 310.589.1998.