at the Complex

Is it a coup or a curse when a young L.A. theatre company secures the rights to a major playwright's work directly after it wins the Pulitzer and less than a year after its high-profile West Coast premiere? In any case, the bare-bones production of David Lindsay-Abaire's lauded drama about a family dealing with the death of a child is bound to draw comparisons—or, if you missed said West Coast premiere, inquiring minds. And in the hands of raw, somewhat inexperienced, and sometimes uneven talent, it's an involving trip, if not a particularly revelatory one.

Acting as producer and director, Nathaniel Mathis has a good sense of the characters and action in the play and displays a gentle sensitivity with his actors. Katrin Biemann is Becca, a mother not quite coping with the loss of her 4-year-old son, and Ricky Pak is Becca's husband, Howie. The upwardly mobile couple is at the heart of the play. But, for the most part, any sense of where they were going as a family before the death is overshadowed by their inability to connect and support each other now; their isolation is intensified by the presence of Becca's flighty sister (Amy Tzagournis) and mother (Mari Marks), a blowzy woman from the other side of the tracks.

The performers succeed in finding the emotional truth in the material. However, there is no stylistic edge to sharpen the heightened reality or the absurdity of an unspeakable tragedy with no one to blame. So the evening doesn't quite escape slipping into melodrama. Most successful is Dan Sykes as Jason, the high school student who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, hey, he's also got some of the most unexpected writing.

It makes sense that although the play was well-received by audiences on both coasts, it also raised a few eyebrows: Has the decidedly quirky playwright abandoned his heretofore very absurd onstage adventures for straightforward kitchen-sink drama? Me, I'm thinking it's a pretty tricky play. It will be interesting to follow its journey at theatres across the country, and see what path it takes.

Presented by the Sitham Theater Company at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jun. 21-Jul. 21. (323) 960-7774. www.plays411.com/rabbithole.

Reviewed by Jennie Webb