Review: Agot Isidro conquers stage in first straight play

By Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Aug 01 2014 08:24 PM | Updated as of Aug 03 2014 09:23 PM

Agot Isidro stars in her first straight play 'Rabbit Hole' for Red Turnip Theater. Photo by Raul Montessa

MANILA – Film and TV star Agot Isidro can confidently add “stage actress” to her resume with her affecting performance in “Rabbit Hole,” her first-ever straight play which also marked her successful return to theater after seven years.

Isidro, who started as a pop singer before expanding her craft to include acting, has previously appeared only in musicals, notably “Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah.” But this didn’t stop Red Turnip Theater from casting her in the lead role of Becca in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rabbit Hole,” which earned for Nicole Kidman an Oscar best actress nomination for the 2010 film version.

The risk paid off handsomely. During the Thursday preview of “Rabbit Hole,” which opens Friday at Whitespace in Makati City, Isidro wasn’t just a marquee attraction as she practically disappeared in the role of a suburban housewife still coming to terms with the death of her son.
 
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, “Rabbit Hole” revolves around a couple whose four-year-old son dies when he gets hit by a car while running after the family dog. When the play opens, it’s been eight months since the boy’s death yet Becca and husband Howie (Michael Williams) are still trying to move on. So when Becca’s younger sister Izzy (Che Ramos-Cosio) announces that she is pregnant, it is like salt on Becca’s wounds.
 
Small sparks like these erupt throughout the play’s two-hour running time, exposing a deep well of grief that threatens to tear them apart.
 
Isidro provides a deceptively calm center to this domestic drama. Her Becca isn’t the “cracked, porcelain doll” that Kidman gave life to in the movie version. Isidro’s performance was more about vulnerability than fragility, and her pain was much more exposed. When she goes on a tirade about the religiosity of her support group or her mother’s lack of tact, it isn’t delivered with a cold sneer but with a mixture of anger and exasperation.
 
Her performance proved to be a perfect fit to director Topper Fabregas’ vision of the play as something that Filipinos, so used to soap operas, can easily relate to, as well as the overall realistic tone adopted by Red Turnip for this production.
 
Fabregas told production designer Faust Peneyra that he wanted to have a house built in Whitespace such that the play’s set looks like an actual residential unit – from the imported beer and juice inside the refrigerator to the lemon squares that Becca serves.
 
Given the layout of Whitespace of having the audience on the same level as the actors, this creates an effect of watching real life unfold and getting caught inside a family squabble.

The cast of ‘Rabbit Hole’ during curtain call. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

While Isidro is at the center of the story, “Rabbit Hole” is pretty much an ensemble effort, although the actresses are truly the stars of this production. Although Izzy seems to have been written as some sort of comic foil to lighten up the heavy proceedings with her witty quips, Ramos-Cosio was more than just amusing. She and Isidro had a natural bond with each other that suggested a closeness beneath their characters’ squabbling.
 
As their mother Nat, Sheila Francisco showed admirable restraint given the gregarious nature of her character. Her quiet moments with Isidro, particularly in that scene when Becca asks if the pain of losing a son ever goes away, could easily have been melodramatic; instead it was moving in a resigned way.
 
The male characters were more fleshed out in the movie version, particularly that of Jason, the teen driving the car that killed the little boy. Williams made the most of his scenes, particularly his dramatic outburst over an erased home video, but Ross Pesigan as Jason just didn’t have much to work on.
 
Despite the talky quality of “Rabbit Hole,” there are many things left unsaid. There may be moments of catharsis but the overall feeling it leaves to the audience is that of emptiness. The slow, slow ending as darkness engulfs the stage is purposely inconclusive, which in a way reinforces the realism that the playwright and director hope to portray because in life, there are no easy solutions – or escape.
 
After two hours of emotional involvement, one is still left in a dark hole.
 
“Rabbit Hole” runs all weekends of August at Whitespace, Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City.