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Clockwise from front left, Nancy Ticknor, as Nat; Amy Thomas, as Becca; Jessie Goodman, as Izzy; and Dave Wright, as Howie, rehearse a scene of Izzy’s birthday party in Winchester Little Theatre’s production of “Rabbit Hole,” which begins Friday. — Josette Keelor/Daily

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Joshua Morgan, as Jason, left, listens to Amy Thomas in a rehearsal of "Rabbit Hole." — Josette Keelor/Daily

'Rabbit Hole' portrays a family coping with tragedy

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- After offering a string of comedies this season, the cast at Winchester Little Theatre takes a new direction with this month's "Rabbit Hole," a play about a family dealing with the aftermath of a 4-year-old's death.

Director Roxie Orndorff acknowledges the sad tone of the play, but she assures that audiences will not regret coming to see it.

"It's about a difficult subject, and I hope that doesn't keep people away," Orndorff said. The play is about the most "Inconsolable loss that anyone can experience," she said. "Your child is not supposed to go before you."

But, written by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, it's also about familial love and personal growth.

"It's so remarkable how he has woven so much into the play, and conversations are so natural," Orndorff said.

"He goes from humor to anger to sadness and back to anger. You don't ever dwell," she said.

The play begins with a birthday party, several months after the death. Becca and Howie, played by Amy Thomas and Dave Wright, are still grieving over the loss of their son, but Becca's younger sister Izzy, played by Jessie Goodman, wishes the family would move on from tragedy.

It's been eight months since the boy darted into the path of a car, and she grieves better by keeping busy.

Becca and Howie also grieve in their own ways. Becca takes the far-removed approach, while Howie is more demonstrative with his emotions.

"It's a very human play," Orndorff said. "And these actors have put 100 percent, they've taken a very difficult subject matter to have to internalize and they have given so much to these characters."

Both new to the WLT stage, Wright and Goodman join cast regulars Thomas and Nancy Ticknor, as Becca's mother Nat.

The fifth cast member is Joshua Morgan, who plays Jason.

"He plays the driver of the car who is dealing with his own, I guess you could say his own demons," Orndorff said.

In contrast to the other characters, who add to a complex family, Jason is a teenager dealing with having killed a little boy after swerving to avoid hitting the dog the boy chased into the road.

"I don't want people to feel so overwhelmed ... or think that they're going to need a box of tissues to watch this play," Orndorff said. "It's not that. It's just such a fascinating study of people dealing."

Though the family does come together in the wake of tragedy, their long-established underlying tension gets the better of them, making their closeness tough to bear for long, Orndorff said. But moments of conflict help ease tension in a plot packed with drama.

"Their mother Natalie is a little overbearing," Orndorff said. "Natalie's kind of ... earthy, down to earth."

Ticknor said she has drawn on her experience as a mother of two while portraying Nat.
"She's a 60-something mom and, you know, matriarch of the family," Ticknor said.

"She's fairly irritating, she kind of can't resist ... coming up with things that annoy her adult daughters," she said. "She still gives them advice that they don't want. She still talks too much."

Though Becca is very much the opposite -- a woman living with a successful husband in the suburbs of New York City -- Izzy is a little more like her mother, on the rebellious side, Goodman said.

"Izzy's a 30-year-old, but inside she's a 16-year-old girl," said Goodman.

"She's the one who's always getting into trouble," she said.

But Izzy is also the one who changes the most over the course of the play, Orndorff said.
"[She] has the most growth, the most maturing."

The play's title refers to "Alice in Wonderland," Orndorff said, and in the play, Jason talks of a science fiction story he wrote called "Rabbit Hole."

Once you go through the hole, you're in another world, Orndorff said.

Playing someone who accidentally kills a child has stretched Morgan's talent reserves. Having so far performed only in WLT's youth program last summer, Morgan said he drew upon personal experiences with his own family, though the experiences were very different from dealing with death or even guilt. Instead, he focused on fear and uncertainty, which comes when a family member has a mental illness.

"That's what I've been using to relate to the play, but it's not the same," Morgan said.
For Ticknor, portraying moments in the life of someone she cannot entirely relate to is what makes acting fun.

"That's what makes it exciting, to kind of become another identity," she said.

The play, Orndorff said, is "a delicate balance between a lot of themes, relationships, guilt, blame, grief, the cycle of life, even class distinctions."

"Every relationship is strained and tested when something like this happens."

Winchester Little Theatre's "Rabbit Hole" starts on Friday and runs through March 24, at 315 W. Boscawen St. in Winchester. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. For tickets or information, contact the box office at 662-3331 or at www.wltonline.org.

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