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Call your play Rabbit Hole, and you conjure images of a tardy white hare shouting “I’m late!” with a ticking clock tucked under one arm. Given David Lindsay-Abaire’s other works — Kimberly Akimbo, about a teenage girl aging four and a half times faster than normal, and Fuddy Meers, about a woman who wakes up every morning with a mind gone blank — you might expect another absurdist play about Lindsay-Abaire’s reigning theme: “outsiders in search of clarity.” And he has written one, but with a twist: Becca began as an insider, but where the world once seemed “nice,” now it makes no sense at all.

People recall the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice for his going to Hades to bring her back and his looking back too soon. What’s often forgotten is how she died, and when. A snake bit her on their wedding day. According to people who keep score of these matters, losing one’s bride/groom is the second worst loss of all. The worst: losing one’s child.

Eight months ago, Becca’s four-year-old son Danny chased a dog into the street and was hit by a car. Nothing can prepare you for that nightmare. Books and movies don’t help. None can make it real enough, and when it happens, the devastation is really real, and the world just empties out. For Becca, even the notion of a divine plan provides no solace (when friends say, “God needed another angel,” she replies, “He’s God! Why can’t He just make another angel?”). And when people assure her they know what she’s going through, she flips out. They remember their experience, Becca replies, which isn’t the same.

For Becca, the world looks idiotic. Her only consolation, and it’s remote, is the Quantum Theory of Immortality. Somewhere, in some other dimension or parallel universe connected to ours by “rabbit holes,” Danny may still be alive (see “Field Notes”). Well, that and a cup of coffee will get you a cup of coffee.

Rabbit Hole won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. What separates it from others on the subject: it’s more about the difficulties of coping than weeping; it takes various perspectives on grieving without sounding like a psychological study; and it’s often funny — as when Becca says, “People don’t scream in your face for no reason,” and her free-spirited sister Izzy replies, “Sure they do. You should get out more.”

For the North Coast Rep, designer Marty Burnett makes Becca and Howie’s living room, micro-realistic kitchen, and Danny’s bedroom (a bedspread replete with robots) feel spacious on the small NCRT stage. At first sight, the interiors look “normal.” Enter Becca, in a compelling performance by Jo Anne Glover, and every detail — children’s books, a dinosaur, fingerprints on the door — shouts that Danny is gone. We see as Glover sees. Even though she’s folding clothes, baking pastries, or compulsively cleaning, Glover conveys the sense that Becca’s living in a morgue. In the end, Glover moves almost imperceptibly, not toward resolution (there’s no such thing in these matters, trust me), but a gradual easing of the burden.

The play presents daily life rendered strange by the unthinkable loss. People try not to offend. There’s a whole vocabulary of verboten words and don’t-go-there subjects (including gushy sympathy, which wore thin months ago). But they can only edit themselves for so long. At various points, one will go off on someone. The NCRT production could tweak the sudden outbursts: make the house more of a pressure cooker.

As if to prove that life isn’t fair, Becca’s sister Lizzy had an accident around the time the car hit Danny. She got pregnant. Jessa Watson provides consistent comic relief as the seemingly carefree ditz who, in the end, achieves a kind of clarity.

Brendan Ford (Howie), young Ryan Kidd (Jason, who drove the fatal car), and Sandra Ellis-Troy (Becca’s outspoken mother Nat) all contribute: each has experienced loss and is in “a different place.” The playwright puts one of his most apt observations in the guise of a tabloid exposé. Nat talks about the “Kennedy curse” and the need to make sense of the senseless. People require some kind of explanation, she suggests, even if it isn’t true.

* * *

Field Notes: The Quantum Theory of Immortality. Quantum mechanics’ “many-worlds interpretation” claims that you exist in different universes, in different “times,” at once. So at least one of you will always be alive — ergo, immortal.

Rabbit holes may connect some or all of the various worlds. And each might influence the others in different ways, like variations on a theme. The example cited most often is pretty gruesome: in Tegmark’s “quantum suicide” experiment, even if you stop yourself from committing suicide, in a different universe people will grieve your loss, and in another, you will suffer the pain you avoided.

I prefer the one about the guy who deliberately lost his shirt in a poker game. “In some parallel world,” he chortled, “I just made out like a bandit.”

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire
North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
Directed by Stephen Elton; cast: Jo Anne Glover, Brendan Ford, Ryan Kidd, Jessa Watson, Sandra Ellis-Troy; scenic design, Marty Burnett; costumes, Michelle Hunt Souza; lighting, Matt Novotny; sound, Chris Luessmann
Playing through April 26; Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 858-481-1055.

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