Written by Andy Halliday
Directed by G.R. Johnson
Like many autobiographical works, Andy Halliday’s tale of love, addiction and recovery is raw, honest and brave. It also, in places, suffers from the lack of objectivity that affects many writers as they attempt to mold their life experiences into dramatic narratives. There is plenty to like about UP THE RABBIT HOLE, including a strong cast, but both directorially and scriptwise, it’s in need of further development.
Young Jack Harris (Tyler Jones), is having trouble maintaining control of his life. Having moved to New York to pursue a career as a dancer, he now finds unable to work due to an injured hamstring. With no Plan B, Jack finds work as a cater waiter, but most of his earnings go to feeding his worsening cocaine habit. His drug buddies include the glamorous but untrustworthy Timothy (Quinn Coughlin), who purports to be straight but enjoys sexually-tinged roughhousing with Jack. Jack’s adoptive mom Helen (Laralu Smith), though well intentioned, cluelessly feeds her son’s addiction by giving him money. Clearly Jack’s lifestyle is a recipe for self-destruction. Thankfully, though, a glimmer of optimism arrives in the form of a letter confirming that Jack’s biological mom has been located and is eager to meet him. Jack travels to Boston, where Angela (also Laralu Smith) welcomes him into her home. The reunion is a happy one, not least because Jack discovers he has a brother. Bradford (Andrew Glaszek), who is gay and has fought his own battle with addiction, is able to offer Jack a kind of empathy and assistance that his adopted family can’t give him. Upon returning to Manhattan, though, Jack falls back into his toxic behavior patterns, nearly derailing his healthy relationship with theater director Robert Maltin (Peter Gregus). A particularly traumatic event threatens to send Jack into an irreversible downward spiral. But thanks to his newfound support system, it appears there may be hope at the bottom of this Pandora’s Box.
Director G.R. Johnson keeps the actors emotionally honest, but has trouble blocking some of the scenes. There’s too much bouncing around in the scenes where Timothy toys with Jack, which dissipates the frightening tension. Other parts of the play seem overly stagnant, as in the scene when Brad, upon meeting Jack for the first time, stands still for several minutes with his arms crossed: a puzzling image for a guy who’s supposed to be welcoming his long-lost brother into the fold. The double casting of Laralu Smith as both Helen and Angela also poses problems. Smith attempts to individuate the two women without resorting to caricature. But ultimately, the moms just aren’t different enough. They also feel somewhat underwritten as characters. Both mothers get to tell their stories, but no tears are shed, no remorse is shown, and we never really learn how either mother feels about her son’s sexuality. They also never meet, despite a request from Angela to do so, which leaves a narrative thread frustratingly unresolved.
Despite its unevenness, though, UP THE RABBIT HOLE manages, at times to be deeply moving and tenderly funny. We can’t help rooting for Jack, especially with the endearing Jones in the part. And the relationship between Jack and Robert is handled with candor and delicacy, both in the dialogue and in the acting. If the same level of excellence could be matched throughout the show, UTRH would go from a very good production to an unforgettable one.
UP THE RABBIT HOLE continues through October 15, 2017 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, New York, NY 10003. Tickets: http://tix.smarttix.com/Modules/ Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?ControlState=1&SalesEventId=6848&DC=