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Grief, humor blend for an unforgettable evening

'Rabbit Hole' deals with parents' reaction to a child's death

I must admit, I had a few reservations about seeing Festival 56's production of "Rabbit Hole." The idea of watching a show based on the accidental death of a 4-year-old child seemed just a little traumatizing for this young mother.

I bore the inevitable on opening night, and I will now say, I'm so glad I gave this remarkable, Pulitzer-Prize-winning drama a chance.

During intermission of the performance, my close friend I took with me to the show leaned over and asked if I have ever lost anyone close to me. I replied, "No, not even my grandparents." She answered with, "You're really lucky."

I have not yet dealt with grief on a personal level, and I truly believe it is the reason why the topic is so intimidating and uncomfortable for me. I also believe it is good to face the things that make you apprehensive, which is why I'm glad I watched this performance.

"Rabbit Hole" put me in the front row of what the raw, day-to-day grieving process looks and feels like. This show gave me chills, it made my eyes well with tears, and there were a few parts I stirred with uneasiness. You know a show is well worth watching when it forces you to feel so many emotions in one scene.

"Rabbit Hole" centers on married couple, Becca (Kaitlyn Weickel) and Howie (Eric Shonk), who are coping with the death of their only son. Young Danny was tragically killed after being struck by a car when running out into the street after the family's pet dog.

Although eight months has passed since the tragedy, Becca remains lost in a haze of despair as she questions the existence of God and the value of life.

At first, it seems Howie is returning to normal, but as the story unfolds, we discover his grief is still just as evident as Becca's, but in a completely different form.

The loss of a child can unravel any loving marriage, and at moments, we believe it is happening to Becca and Howie.

While Weickel and Shonk's performances blew me a way, I was also amused by the character of Izzy (Janna Schmid), Becca's younger, immature sister.

During scenes when I was digging around for a Kleenex, I was extremely thankful for the comic relief she brought to the show. We meet Izzy in the first scene as she acts out to Becca a colorful bar scene from the night before. We quickly find out that the scene is a dragged-out distraction to some even bigger news Izzy is there to share. She's pregnant from a man she hasn't called boyfriend for all that long.

The news provokes complex feelings for the grieving mother. Becca claims she's happy for Izzy, but behind closed doors with her husband, she reveals outrage and claims her sister is clueless to what lies ahead.

A quirky character that also brings light moments to the play is Becca and Izzy's mother, Nat (Kathy Missel), who will make you laugh with her theory about the Kennedy family. It wasn't until we learned Nat is dealing with her own grief that I began to really appreciate her character.

The fifth character in this story is young Jason (Cole Winston), the high school boy who was driving the car that struck Danny. Jason wishes to meet with Becca and Howie as he navigates through his own grief. While Becca is open to getting to know the boy who still has a lot to look forward to in life, Howie becomes troubled with the idea of meeting Jason.

These five performances, blended together, create an unforgettable evening.

Make plans today to see this one-of-a-kind performance. There are only three more opportunities to watch it. "Rabbit Hole" runs tonight, Friday, July 5, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, July 6, at 2 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. at the Grace Performing Arts Center, located at 316 S. Main St., Princeton.

For tickets, call the box office at 815-879-5656, ext. 11, or stop by Friday or Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. or one hour before show times.

Just a friendly reminder, bring tissues for the inevitable tear-jerking moments.

Note to readers: Goldie Rapp is senior staff writer at the Bureau County Republican. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @bcr_grapp.

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