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Down the 'Rabbit Hole' of tragedy and grief

"Rabbit Hole," written by David Lindsay-Abaire, will be performed at the Oxford Community Arts Center on Friday, April 20. The play revolves around a couple grieving the loss of their young son after a car accident.

The show only has five characters: the mother, the father, the grandmother, the mother's sister and the teenage boy who hit the couple's son with his car.

Each character works through their grief differently, trying to move forward with their lives. The play puts a spotlight on the strained relationship of the married couple.

Director Becky Howard describes the play as a character study into people's different forms of grief.

"It's not this horribly sad play that is going to make you cry the whole time," Howard said. "There is some humor in it too because for a lot of people humor is the way that you deal with grief."

The play uses heavy symbolism to communicate its message. The stage is set with a monochrome set: A kitchen, living room and dining room are dressed with dark colors and stark lines. The costumes are dark too, contributing to the scene. The room of the dead son, which sits at front of the stage, is thrown into bright prominence against the background.

"The idea is that this is the little boys room and they haven't dismantled it even months later," Howard said. "So his room is the only part of the set that has any color or any softness. The only other times there is any color in the set is when the mother is folding some of her late son's clothes and when flowers are put in a vase at the end of the show."

Howard has been working with the Oxford Community Arts Center since 1989, and she has lost count of how many productions she's been involved with -- her best guess is more than 70.

"In community theater, there is never enough time because it's so dependent on people's schedules and lives," Howard said.

The cast and crew for "Rabbit Hole" has been working on the show since late February, rehearsing two evenings a week and Saturday mornings.

Actor Matt Benzing, who plays Howie (the father), finds the dark premise of the show compelling to act in.

"Howie is struggling with a lot of conflicts," Benzing said. "He doesn't want to let go of his son and he wants things to go back to the way they were, but you can't get past that and I find that interesting."

Benzing started working with the Oxford Community Arts Center when he was a student at Miami in 1986. Since his return to Ohio in 2015, he has gotten involved in the program again. He finds this show a nice break from his usual comedic roles.

This show is a brutally realistic look at the effects of a personal tragedy.

"The characters aren't just relatable, they are complex and not always likeable," Howard said. "I like that in a show. I like that at the end of the show the author doesn't tie it up neatly, he doesn't end it with a happily ever after. I think it's a beautifully written play and compelling story."

"Rabbit Hole" will be performed on April 20, 21, 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. and April 22 and 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online or in person at the Oxford Community Arts Center. The theater will feature cabaret style seating, complete with tables, chairs and wine.