Deborah Harmon, Michael Shaw, Phylicia Mason and Yo Younger. Photography by Clark Dugger
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

There is nothing in life more devastating or tragic than the death of a young child in a family.  Those of us who never experienced that shattering trauma are fortunate. One can only imagine what takes place within the family unit and the aftermath of such a life-altering tragedy.  Worlds are turned upside down never to be made whole again.

Yo Younger and Michael Shaw. Photography by Clark Dugger

Dezart Performs the Palm Springs-based theatrical company is currently presenting the powerful and insightful Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Rabbit Hole”, written by David Lindsay-Abaire that is now on stage at the Pearl McManus Theatre, in Palm Springs.

Grief, in any of its forms, is difficult to endure.  When it occurs inside a family unit – husband, wife, and a four-year-old son – it is especially shattering and so personal an experience that each must grieve in their own way.  Lindsay-Abaire’s affecting and touching story is wonderfully directed by Scott Smith, who sensitively weaves both dramatic and light comedy moments producing a necessary obbligato of empathy and hope.

The story in short, centers around devoted parents Beca (Yo Younger) and Howie Corbett (Michael Shaw) who are grieving the loss of their four-year-old son Danny, as the result of a traffic accident when the toddler ran into the street chasing his dog and was struck and killed by 17-year-old High School student Jason (Jonathan Hatsios).

Beca’s mom Nat (Deborah Harmon) is a victim and a survivor of a drug-addicted son who took his own life.  Beca’s pregnant unmarried sister Izzy (Phylicia Mason) are the visiting ‘support group’. Unfortunately, they are clumsy and gaffe-prone in their small talk.  Not thinking before saying things that are painful for Beca to hear. Howie endures his in-laws but grieves in his own way.  He is moody and depressed, withdrawing into bouts of temperament and is enrolled in grief therapy as a way of dealing with his guilt feelings of If only we had, If only I had, is the mantra he hears in his head.  He and Beca are headed on a marital collision course following Danny’s death.

Phylicia Mason and Yo Younger. Photography by Clark Dugger

He thinks Beca is consciously trying to erase all memory of Danny. She puts up the house for sale, gets rid of the dog (which Howie loves), removes pictures of Danny, his toys, and family videos that Howie cherishes; viewing them nightly – all reminders of happier days.  Even when young Jonathan attempts to contact the Corbett’s to apologize, Howie rebuffs Jonathan’s act of apology asking him to leave the house.  It’s difficult for the audience too. We’re the omniscient observers and we recognize the silent cries for closure on all sides. This is a family in crisis on several levels.

Beca is so deep in her grief she cannot see the forest of healing because of all the obstacles and the memory leafs residing in the trees that obscures her healing process.  Beca and Howie are not alone in these feelings.  One wouldn’t be human not to feel their pain and the pain of others in similar circumstances.

The highly-nuanced, dynamite performances of Yo Younger and Michael Shaw are staggering in their brilliance. In theatre, we often hear the phrase ‘great stage chemistry’. Younger and Shaw are so totally immersed in the characters of Beca and Howie, one forgets we are watching a stage play and not guiltily peering through the windows of someone’s home.  Not many plays do that anymore.

Deborah Harmon, Michael Shaw, Phylicia Mason and Yo Younger. Photography by Clark Dugger

The technical team led by director Smith features a fully functional set design by Thomas L. Valach, providing the splendid ensemble cast plenty of room create their on-stage magic.  The creative lighting design by Phil Murphy delivers many poignant mood-inducing moments. The costume designs of Frank Cazeres and the Sound Design by Producer/photographer Clark Dugger, complete the creative team.

“Rabbit Hole” is currently performing at The Pearl McManus Theatre, located at 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs, through January 21st.  For tickets call the Box Office at 760-322- 0179. But Don’t wait. The first week’s performances were Sold Out.