For much of “Rabbit Hole” — David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, now in a thoughtful production at Briarcliff’s Hudson Stage — Susannah Schulman plays a grieving Larchmont housewife, Becca, with a quiet reserve, keeping it all together in hospital-corners neatness.
Becca likes things a certain way. She folds clothes a certain way, serves creme caramel a certain way and if there’s anything unpleasant to deal with, she has a certain way to deal with that, too.
“Quick and clean, like a Band-Aid,” she says.
Becca and her husband, Howie, have something terribly unpleasant to deal with: their son’s death.
Howie’s coping strategy is not Becca’s: He’d rather not let go just yet; he’d rather remember little Danny and see photos of him, the ones Becca boxed up long ago.
“Rabbit Hole” treads much the same ground as the Oscar-winning “Ordinary People,” which pitted an icy Mary Tyler Moore against a touchy-feely Donald Sutherland.
As in that work, Howie, the husband in “Rabbit Hole” — played here by New Rochelle native Tony Carlin — walks on eggshells, not wanting to make waves with his formidable wife.
Carlin’s Howie is a model of deference bordering on the milquetoast. When his words are twisted, he quickly withdraws them. Still, when he is injured, he lashes out.
There is judgment in grief, Becca and Howie learn.
As Becca puts it: “You’re not in a better place. You’re just in a different place.”
But Howie has had enough.
“Something has to change,” he says, “because I can’t do this like this. It’s too hard. How much more do we have to lose?”
There is plenty to lose. Director Dan Foster shapes the play, finding moments of connection and lost connection in Lindsay-Abaire’s note-perfect words.
He is aided in this by the fine performances from Schulman and Carlin, and a first-rate supporting cast: Theo Allyn as Becca’s self-absorbed sister, Izzy; Lucy Martin as their mother, Nat; and Brandon Gill as Jason.
(On Broadway, Cynthia Nixon won a Tony Award as Becca, John Slattery was Howie and Tyne Daly was Nat.)
Allyn’s quirky Izzy makes a perfect foil to Schulman’s strait-laced Becca, delivering a fully realized character.
Martin brings a weary wisdom to Nat, another face of grief. She, too, has lost and, while her wounds aren’t as fresh as Becca’s, they are no less valid.
Gill, a recent Juilliard graduate, pitches his introductory monologue with a squirm-inducing mix of naiveté and nerves. Later, his nervousness gives way to an ease that triggers an unexpected avalanche of emotion.
Schulman is careful with each line, every look, carrying herself as if she’s on a ledge or the edge of a precipice. She seems unable to catch her breath, as if the pain of that Band-Aid just won’t go away.
Andreea Mincic’s set is well-appointed, complete with running water.
Joanne Haas’ costumes are contemporary and add to the characters. Andrew Gmoser’s lights delineate well the various spaces.
Original music is always a nice touch and John Gromada’s work here — heard in the partially lit scene changes — is similarly light and dark, an effective blend for this particular play.
If you have a sweet tooth, best not to go to “Rabbit Hole” hungry, as a parade of treats fills the stage — from creme caramel to red-velvet cake to zucchini bread and lemon squares — all made by a culinarily adept costume mistress.
With “Rabbit Hole,” Hudson Stage extends its long streak of consistently fine productions. It is powerful stuff, a chance to think about the unthinkable.
You might wonder what you might do if, heaven forbid, you were in their shoes.
And your kids might wonder why you’re hugging them a little bit longer before letting them go.
Sometimes, Nat tells Becca, grief is all you have.
All theater lovers have is two more weekends to catch “Rabbit Hole.”
Photo by Rana Faure: The cast of Hudson Stage Company’s production of “Rabbit Hole” is, from left: Lucy Martin, Theo Allyn, Tony Carlin, Susannah Schulman and Brandon Gill.
What: “Rabbit Hole”
When: Weekends through Nov. 21. 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Nov. 20 and 21; 3 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 21. A post-performance Q&A on Sunday.
Where: Woodward Hall Theatre, Pace University, 235 Elm Road, Briarcliff Manor
Tickets: $30, $25 for seniors and students, $20 for Pace staff and students. One free ticket for every 10 purchased at the group rate.
Ticket call: 212-868-4444
Ticket web: www.smarttix.com
Hudson Stage: 914-271-2811 Web: www.hudsonstage.com