Bob Beaucheane

Theatre Review – Rabbit Hole at Burlington County Footlighters

It seemed appropriate that a man named Al Krier would make his directorial debut with David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole. The drama explored how two parents, a grandmother and aunt coped with the accidental death of a four year old child. In an interesting spin, it also showed this tragic event’s effect on the 17 year old boy who drove the car that hit him. The realistic performances the cast delivered made the audience criers.

Rebekah Masters (as Becca) and Dan Brothers (as Howie) turned in phenomenal performances as the grieving parents. They animated Lindsay-Abaire’s dialog in a way that made me feel like part of the conversation.

Ms. Masters brought great depth to a character who internalized her pain. This role allowed her to show the range of her skills. The performance began with her folding laundry and talking with her sister, Izzy. (Played by Corrine Hower-Greene.) Several minutes into the conversation she revealed with composure that they had belonged to her deceased son. She’d washed them before donating to charity.

Later in the show Ms. Masters displayed anger in response to Becca’s mother Nat’s (played by Susan Dewey) references to her own son’s passing. (Ms. Dewey’s character had a habit of telling Becca the worst things at the worst times.) Ms. Masters assertively snapped at her. She pointed out the difference between a 30 year old heroin addict hanging himself and a four year old child getting hit by a car. I thought that an interesting response from a character talking about her brother’s death.

Ms. Masters also showed vulnerability when cleaning out her son’s bedroom. She asked Nat (Susan Dewey), “Does it (the feeling of loss) ever go away?” Ms. Dewey showed great tenderness in her explanation of how the grief process changes over time.

The most intense scene in the show took place when Becca met with Jason, the boy who drove the car that killed her son. Max Farley played Jason on the night I attended. He took on arguably the most challenging role in the show. Performing with Ms. Masters, Mr. Farley kept his head down and expressed remorse without being consumed my guilt. That’s a difficult balance. He also showed calm and poise when Ms. Masters cried; the only occasion in the show when her character did.

Dan Brothers’ performance impressed me the most. He started out playing Howie as a relaxed, laid back man trying to coax his wife out of her grief. Then his character became emotional: really emotional. I liked his facial expressions as he watched a video tape of Howie and his son. He managed to weave those of a proud father with a grieving man very well.

Mr. Brothers has such a soothing bass voice that he’d make an exceptional nighttime disc jockey. That is until he yells; and boy did he yell in this show. I’ve been to numerous sporting events in Philadelphia. I’ve never heard yelling quite like his brand. I thought the building was going to rattle.

I also liked the way he could play an unhinged Howie and still bring himself down to a calm demeanor within minutes. He did this best in the scene where he discovered Becca erased the tape of Howie and his son.

In a story this somber, comic relief becomes the sine qua non of the show. Most of the humorous lines went to Becca’s sister, Izzy. (Played by Corine Hower-Greene.) I enjoyed the deadpan way she delivered the line, “we’ll have to do it again next year” after Izzy’s birthday party disintegrated into fighting. She did an entertaining job describing a bar fight that wasn’t really a bar fight in the beginning, as well. Because of the immense sadness in the show, had Ms. Hower-Greene not delivered the catharsis so well, this play would’ve been unwatchable.

Just about every performance I attend encounters some sort of technical difficulty. Much to Footlighter’s credit, this one didn’t. Al Krier and Bob Beaucheane did a great job with the sound. While Howie watched the video of him and his son, I could understand all the pre-recorded dialog without any trouble. It came through loud enough to hear and very clear.

While I’ve been “cautioned” not to comment on costuming, I’m going to do it, anyway. Everybody dressed in accordance with the way I imagined the characters would when I read the play. It helped me to suspend my disbelief that much more. I felt like that this was an average American family living in Yonkers.

My only criticism of the show involved the audience, of all things. No one applauded between scenes. After the show I heard someone tell a cast member that he “didn’t like the show, but liked the performances.” These responses probably stemmed from the uncomfortable subject matter in Rabbit Hole. It shows how intense the drama and how convincingly the actors performed when people thought it inappropriate to applaud.

No one likes to think about grief until they’re forced to. The play showed how different people cope with it in different ways, not always healthy ones. We all confront grief and loss in our lives. Watching the show got me thinking about some I’ve experienced. It led me start reexamining how I dealt with them. In spite of that, I still enjoyed the play. It brought out an unpleasant facet of the human experience. Isn’t that what great drama is supposed to do?

After the show I joked with Mr. Krier. I mentioned how he selected an “easy” play for his first outing in the director’s chair. He explained that the script and the great cast made it easy. The cast members with whom I spoke expressed their admiration for the dialog in Rabbit Hole. It came through in their performances.

Theater Review – Dr. Cook’s Garden at Bridge Players Theater Company

Many think horticultural concepts can’t be combined with those of mass murder. I’ve got news for those people. It’s been done by the Bridge Players Theater Company in Burlington, NJ. In fact, they melded the two extremely well this May in their production of Ira Levin’s disturbing piece Dr. Cook’s Garden.

The play itself premiered in September of 1967. At that time America entered a period of deep introspection. The Civil Rights Movement had begun, people questioned our involvement in Viet Nam, and the ‘Summer of Love’ just occurred. During this era our nation re-examined many concepts that once seemed sacrosanct. In this sense, Dr. Cook’s Garden reflected the questioning nature of the time period.

The Bridge Players Production featured Fran Pederson in the role of Dr. Jim Tennyson. Like many in those days, the draft board summoned him to report for examination. He needed to obtain childhood medical records to excuse him from serving in the military. This led him to visit his home town of Greenfield Center, Vermont. He met with his mentor and local doctor Dr. Leonard Cook, played by Bob Beaucheane, to acquire them.

Citing medical issues from childhood to avoid military service may sound ethically dubious. As the play went on I realized that plot point merely a teaser.  The moral ambiguity kept coming. In the course of the visit Dr. Tennyson spoke with the doctor’s housemaid and his nurse. (Played by Marti Palmieri and Regina Deavitt.) Dr. Tennyson learned that many people he knew before leaving for medical school had died. He became suspicious. Upon speaking with the doctor’s gardener (played by Mike McCollum) and investigating his records, Dr. Tennyson suspected that Dr. Cook may have been killing his patients.  He confronted the man with these allegations.

The real drama then commenced. Pederson delivered accusations with assurance and conviction. Beauchane’s reserved, laconic assertions of innocence had this reviewer convinced he did nothing wrong. At least until he calmly admitted he did.

Then the drama went into overdrive.  Pederson and Beaucheane played off each other exceptionally well. In the course of their argument they debated Dr. Cook’s faith that his “removals” turned Greenfield Center into an ideal community. Dr. Tennyson rebutted that murder couldn’t be justified in the interest of bettering society. The moral arguments kept coming along with an exceptional plot twist. At times I didn’t know if I was watching theater or hearing a disquisition on philosophy. I quickly realized the latter wouldn’t have engrossed me such. Kudos to Pederson and Beaucheane. They presented a scene that could’ve been pedantic and made it engaging.

Beaucheane also served as the lighting director on this project. He used his dual roles to outstanding effect. One scene in Dr. Cook’s examination room really grabbed me. While speaking to someone on the phone he expressed concern that his nemesis had a terminal illness. The dim illumination made Beaucheane appear dark and sinister. Through the performance’s early scenes his warm tone of voice and laid back mannerisms resembled those of a devoted town doctor. Due to lighting and superb acting ability he transformed into the Angel of Death.

I also enjoyed the way the Bridge Players Theater Company established the scene. Before the show and during intermission, they played 1960’s Rock and Roll over the loudspeakers. The peace symbol Mike McCollum wore on his forehead added an authentic reference to the era, as well.

Dr. Cook’s Garden is the greatest masterpiece I’d never heard of. In the playbill Director Alice Weber wrote, “I hope you agree with me that Dr. Cook’s Garden raises some difficult questions, and I hope it makes you think a little bit as you make your way home.” It sure did. The more I contemplate the myriad ethical issues raised in the play I think about it even more. The show runs through May 16th.