Lust for Life 

The Firehouse's “Rabbit Hole” tells the story of a marriage trying to survive death, while the Barksdale's musical, “Mona's Arrangements,” is happy to just get through a date.

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In the program notes to the Firehouse Theatre's production of “Rabbit Hole,” director Daniel Moore writes: “The fate of humans is to suffer. To laugh and love and sometimes mourn. We are beautifully resilient, however. We can survive anything.”

These words sum up the balancing act of playwright David Lindsay-Adaire's story, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winner: Emotions bend us but endurance is a virtue. And so it goes with “Rabbit Hole,” a brilliant tale of five people mourning the death of a little boy, and their clashes along the way.

Jennifer Massey plays Becca, a brittle Martha Stewart-type housewife who chooses isolation and purging as the means for handling the loss of her son, Danny. In contrast, her husband, Howie (Ben Baker), seeks solace in a support group and clings to reminders of the boy. These opposing styles gradually grow from raw opposition to a healing collaboration in which the couple faces its post-loss life together.

Agitating the oil-and-water grief styles of Becca and Howie are Izzy (Marta Rainer), Becca's impulsive sister; Nat (Linda Beringer), Becca's insensitive mother; and Jason (Jacob Pennington), the teenager who was driving the car that killed Danny.

Director Moore focuses so much on the disconnection between the characters that they run the risk of losing any connection, becoming isolated in their grief. The actors deliver wonderful performances, carrying themselves through their own particular guilt and distress so intensely that at times it seems they're experiencing different traumas. This becomes most apparent among Nat, Izzy and Becca, where some familial thread of similarity should unite the narrative, but where the mourning is often distinct.

Rainer is outstanding as Izzy. She brings a tenderness to this wild character while consuming remarkable amounts of sweets onstage. Pennington and Massey have a particularly moving scene when the teenager tries to work through some of his guilt and grief by visiting his victim's parents. The audience is carried on this journey in which the characters struggle against one another but must finally endure together.

“Mona's Arrangements,” at the Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern, is a locally grown musical and the perfect remedy for anyone suffering from spring fever. This sunny little charmer of a show features three of Richmond's favorite musical actors: Jan Guarino as florist shop owner, Miss Mona; Audra Honaker as Mona's mischievous niece, Angie; and Scott Wichmann as the goofy yet endearing Artie. Guarino, Honaker and Wichmann do what they do best in playwright Bo Wilson's romantic comedy — sing, dance and exude their comical selves.

Middle-aged Mona runs a successful flower shop while she manages to avoid her feelings and any romantic entanglements. She hums along through a life of serial dating when along comes Artie, the perfect guy, who happens to be half her age. It takes a touch of meddling from Angie to make it all work out in the end.

The music moves the lighthearted plot along despite being somewhat monotonous; a couple of the songs fail to showcase Honaker's talents to their best advantage. But the music is secondary to the chemistry of the players, who exchange so many clever one-liners and bits that it's well worth the drive to Hanover Tavern.

Honaker and Wichmann are hilarious during an awkward date scene. The charm of the play is captured by Wichmann and Guarino in a scene in which they make up lyrics to old TV show theme songs. The climax of a first date between Mona and Artie at the end of the first act kept the audience laughing into intermission.

The lighthearted spirit of “Mona” lives on a gorgeous flower-coated set designed by Terrie Powers and David Powers and beautifully lighted by Slade Billew. S

“Rabbit Hole” runs through March 21 at the Firehouse Theatre. Tickets are $10-$25. Call 355-2001 or visit www.firehousetheatre.org.

“Mona's Arrangements” runs through April 19 at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern. Tickets are $20-$38. Call 282-2620 or visit www.barksdaletheatre.org.



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