Objects have taken on a terrible significance for Becca and Howie Corbett, the married central characters in David Lindsay-Abaire’s play “Rabbit Hole.” A copy of “The Runaway Bunny” haunts a shelf like an unforgiving ghost. A favorite family videotape represents a tenuous grip on sanity. When Becca’s mother happens upon a tiny pair of blue waterproof boots while cleaning out a room, Becca has to grab them and stuff them in a trash bag before their presence overwhelms her.
The import of the boots and other mementos reverberates eloquently in the Keegan Theatre’s artfully controlled staging of “Rabbit Hole.” Astutely directed by Kerri Rambow, and featuring Susan Marie Rhea and Mark A. Rhea as the Corbetts, the production gets commendable mileage from understatement, physical distances and telling pauses as it paints a portrait of grief and survival after enormous loss.
The winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (and the inspiration for a 2010 movie), “Rabbit Hole” is set in a well-to-do home in Larchmont, N.Y. In the Keegan rendering, the place is all tasteful, tidy modernism, with peach-colored walls, angular black furniture and a granite kitchen counter. (4Points Design Collective created the two-story set.) Only an empty kid’s room — colorful quilt, toys and stuffed animals — diverges from the shelter-magazine aesthetic.
Since the death of the room’s former occupant — their young son, Danny — Becca and Howie have felt alienated from each other, trapped in their distinctive brands of mourning. The occasional company of Becca’s ditzy sister, Izzy (a fine Shayna Blass), and loquacious mother, Nat (Linda High), isn’t much help: The awkward conversations at family get-togethers are just another reminder that, in suffering and in the search for comfort, each human is, in some sense, alone.
The Rheas (who are married) make effective use of tense, bruised, stoical intonations and body language, tempered by flaring bitterness. Becca’s pursed lips, wearily battened-down expressions, and scarily quiet speaking cadences, in particular, testify to the control she is desperately trying to maintain as she mechanically folds clothes, serves food or trudges about the house. She rarely trudges too near her husband: Shrewdly positioned by Rambow in various parts of the roomy set, Becca and Howie often look as separated from each other as they evidently feel.
Blass’s fidgety, sarcastic Izzy, clad in quirky bohemian attire, enlivens scenes and provides welcome comic relief while rounding out the picture of frustrating family dynamics. (Kelly Peacock designed the costumes.) High’s gabby but stolid Nat is appropriately layered with flakiness and resignation.
As a young teenager named Jason, who was caught up in the circumstances surrounding Danny’s death, Patrick Joy radiates affecting earnestness and hesitancy. In a quietly intense monologue that voices a letter Jason is sending to the Corbetts, the boy sits very straight on the edge of the stage, looking resolute, vulnerable and a little waifish, his hands folded in his lap; every now and then, his hands break free and flutter helplessly, before he joins them back into a clasp.
In a pivotal scene later on, Jason takes a tentative sip from a glass of milk, and the moment suggests the possibility of comfort and human connection in an all-too-bleak world. A glass of milk — another object pregnant with meaning.
By David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Kerri Rambow; lighting design, Megan Thrift; sound, Tony Angelini; set dressing and properties, Carol H. Baker; hair and makeup design, Craig Miller. About 21 / 2 hours. Through July 21 at the Church Street Theater, 1742 Church St. NW, Washington. Call 703-892-0202 or visit keegantheatre.com.