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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Rabbit Hole’ powerful, poignant in Tisch Mills

Critic At Large

The Forst Inn Arts Collective

Ian Wisneski, from left, Kristen Bustrak, Elizabeth Szyman, Vicki Svacina and Cole Egger make up the cast for “Rabbit Hole,” presented by The Forst Inn Arts Collective. (Company photo)

TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV)

Great play.

Excellent cast.

At times, the players in The Forst Inn Arts Collective production of “Rabbit Hole” seem to draw from within – a layer above acting a role.

The story is realistic: A couple loses a child. What is next for them amid the jumbled, foul pile of grief?

Written with sensitivity by David Lindsay-Abaire, “Rabbit Hole” is a play that allows one to go where one ordinarily cannot go.

Effectiveness starts with the set, which has the lived-in aura of the couple’s home. The real feel includes the kitchen, living room and the boy’s room – his bed, toys and stuffed animals mostly untouched since the accident in the street outside the house eight months ago.

The family dog got loose, and Danny was chasing after his beloved pet. He ran in front of a car driven by a teenage boy.

What happens on stage is powerful stuff. William Shakespeare’s tragedies still ripple down the centuries. This is a modern tragedy, the closeness heightening its impact. The compassion in the script and this production help one through.

Director Michael Sheeks skillfully and care-fully guides his players, each committed… with so much to explore and set free.

“People want things to make sense” is a line in the play, and the actors bring sense to their performances.

Kristen Bustrak is the mother. Becca is tired of the months of people feeling sorry for her, of being surrounded by reminders, of agony in her soul. Bitterness has splashed onto her relations with her husband.

Ian Wisneski is the father. Howie, bedeviled with his own set of dilemmas, tries mightily to bring comfort to Becca, who has thrown up fortress walls that touch the clouds. Howie’s attempts at warmth – to be he/she again – are met with ice. Howie attends group therapy sessions; Becca not.

Elizabeth Syzman is Becca’s wise-mouth sister. Izzy is sometimes comedy relief with her quirky episodes, like the first one about punching out a woman in a bar. But Izzy, too, has to maneuver carefully around her timebomb sister. Plus, Izzy has a life-changing situation of her own.

Vicki Svacina is Becca’s opinionated mother. Nat at first is a yakety-yak given to exaggerations, like theories about so many Kennedys haven fallen from the sky. But Nat also carries tonnage of a lost child and also has ways to connect with Becca.

Cole Egger is the teen driver. Jason has devils of his own, yet he shows up on the doorstep of the house Becca and Howie trying to be nice. He is met with rejection (Howie) and an ear (Becca). This play has oh, so many points of compelling situations.

Side note: Jason is a high school senior, and he is excited about graduation next Thursday and the celebrity who will be speaker. Inadvertently, irony now surrounds the speaker in the script from 2007: Matt Lauer, who has since been fired by NBC amid accusations of misbehavior.

The naturalistic way Kristen Bustrak, Ian Wisneski, Elizabeth Szyman, Vicki Svacina and Cole Egger embrace their roles makes their storytelling feel real. It is easy to imagine other people from one’s life – maybe oneself – swept into their floodwaters. That naturalism is worth experiencing.

***

Creative: Playwright – David Lindsay-Abaire; director Michael Sheeks; stage management – Shannon Paige; scenic design, properties – Nannette Macy

Cast:

Izzy – Elizabeth Szyman

Becca – Kristen Bustrak

Howie – Ian Wisneski

Nat – Vicki Svacina

Jason – Cole Egger

Voice of Danny – Archer LaFond

Running time: Two hours, 25 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12; 2 p.m. Oct. 13; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18-19, 24-26

Info: forstinn.com

***

NEXT: “Old Love” by Norm Foster, Nov. 1-16.

Joan Emmett art at The Forst Inn. (Warren Gerds)

OF NOTE: In the art gallery of the Forst Inn is an exhibition that is in place to Nov. 3. “Joan Emmett’s Steampunk Art, Whimsy and Amusements” is piece after piece of imagination unleashed. Fused in 2-D and 3-D – and sometimes with archive movie footage – are playful creations that reveal a unique wizard of odd.

THE VENUE: The Forst Inn stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area.  A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit.

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