By Beatrice Williams-Rude
Up the Rabbit Hole is a touching play about a young man seeking acceptance. It’s neither a “coming of age” nor a “coming out” piece, but rather a psychological odyssey.
The protagonist, Jack Harris, in a desperate attempt to climb out of the rabbit hole where he has fallen thanks to drugs whose use stems from feelings of worthlessness, seeks to find his birth mother and learn why she rejected him.
We see the indignities and cruelty to which Jack is subjected—which he permits, thanks to his low self-esteem. We watch as Timothy physically abuses and robs Jack. When Jack meets a strong, successful man, Robert, who offers him everything he wants including a good job, he proceeds, yet again, to shoot himself in the foot.
What Jack doesn’t understand is that the only person who doesn’t accept him is himself.
When Jack, who is gay, meets his biological mother and his half-brother, he learns that his mother, in the throes of acute alcoholism at the time of Jack’s conception and birth, simply couldn’t cope and thought she was doing what was best for Jack in allowing his adoption by a family of means. His loving half-brother, Brad, shows him that it’s possible to lead a positive life even when one is H.I.V. positive.
However, after this life-affirming encounter, when Jack returns to New York he’s again sucked into the cocaine culture by brutal, abusive Timothy. Enter the Seventh Cavalry in the form of Robert, who contacts Brad and together they help Jack emerge from the black hole.
This play, by Andy Halliday, is well-constructed, has an arc, and believable characters. Having both mothers played by the same actress was a bit of casting genius—they both love Jack. Laralu Smith defines both women exquisitely.
Jack is so sensitively played by Tyler Jones, one wants to jump on the stage and say “stop” when he yields as cocaine is being pushed on him. We empathize to the max when Robert takes Jack’s cell phone. Jack’s defense/escape from the present is the constant use of his phone, which is rarely out of his hands.
One loves Robert, good, solid, understanding Robert: Peter Gregus fully inhabits the role. As Brad, Andrew Glaszek, provides a ray of sunshine, illuminating the darkness. Timothy, truly the bête noir, is forcefully played by Quinn Coughlin.
Given that the work is largely autobiographical we can relax knowing our protagonist really has climbed out of the hole.
The excellent direction is by G.R. Johnson. Theater for the New City produced the work that had been developed by Windowpane Theatre Company. Scenic design by Dan Daly; lighting by Joe Thompson; costumes by Tyler M Holland; sound by Jacob Subotnick.
Photos: Kevin Cristaldi
Up the Rabbit Hole, opens Tuesday, Sept. 26 and will play through Oct. 15 at Theater for a New City, 155 First Ave. (between Ninth and Tenth Streets).
Running time is 120 minutes; there is no intermission.