Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland

01/08/2012 - 04/08/2012

Production Details

‘Between grief and blame …waits forgiveness’… 

Rabbit Hole, by 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire, is a moving account of Becca and Howie dealing with the accidental death of their young son. When Becca’s sister announces her pregnancy, she and Howie must come to terms with new life in the family, and choose to find a way forward, or fragment beneath the weight of blame and sorrow.

The play considers all ramifications in a compassionate, deft and humorous manner.

In this Unitec production the cast of five are Pasifika students and in response to this director, Vicky Yiannoutsos has chosen to play these as Samoan characters making their lives in America, as many Samoans in the diaspora have done. This brings a cultural presence to the play which illuminates themes in a surprising manner.

In 2012, Unitec’s Department of Performing and Screen Arts in Mt Albert, Auckland undertook to trial an innovative curriculum development. The departments acting programme enrolled five students who have graduated from BEST Training’s Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (PIPA) two year Diploma in Acting, to do the equivalent of a third year of study in order to graduate with a Unitec Bachelors’ Degree in Performing Arts.

The students take classes with other year groups but also undertake separate projects. Their first public performance is Rabbit Hole by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and will show at the Unitec Theatre from August 1-4, 2012.

Dates & Venue / Tickets
1-4 August, 7pm 
Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland 
Tickets at www.iticket.co.nz or (09) 361 1000  

Becca:  Joanna Mika-Toloa
Howie:  Hans Masoe
Izzy:  Lynette Itagia Fesuluai
Nat:  Nastassia Bianca Wolfgramm 
Jason:  Jeremy Hewett  

Pasifika heart-beat enriches American family drama

Review by Johnny Givins 03rd Aug 2012

Something new is happening at Unitec!  A pilot scheme to increase the involvement of Pasifika students is bearing its first fruit.  What a delight to watch the developing talents of five actors who have spent two years at PIPA and now have the opportunity to spend a year at Unitec Department of Performing and Screen Art to graduate with a degree in 2013.

They certainly have brought something unique to the campus.  On Thursday night I attended the second performance of a four show run of Rabbit Hole.

It is, first of all, a great play by David Lindsay-Abaire.   It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007, a huge success in New York (with Sex and the City actor Cynthia Nixon), and the 2010 film (with Nicole Kidman and Dianne Wiest).  Any actor would relish the opportunity to play any of these five crafted roles.

Vicky Yiannoutsos took up the challenge to direct and to find a real Pasifika heart-beat in this upper middle-class east coast American family drama, dealing with the accidental death of their 5 year old son. The student actors are Samoan/Maori, Tongan, Samoan, and Cook Island Maori, so she moved the play to West Coast USA and suddenly we are watching a Samoan family living in California.  Samoan language and traditional ceremony as well as Samoan song augment the script. It’s a great idea and follows the tradition of the play being performed in a Spanish in Puerto Rico in 2010.

It is a student production – low budget, no designer set, anachronistic Kiwiana tables and chairs, simple staging and lighting.  But that just doesn’t matter when we are watching these fine trainee actors starting to find their straps, working the scenes to emotional peaks and comic delights.

They explore a rollercoaster of a story fulfilling complex multilevel actions and subtext as the audience is guided through memory, longing, recriminations, sarcasm, rage, violence, jokes, embarrassment, and forgiveness. 

Rabbit Hole explores Becca (Joanna Mika-Toloa) and Howie (Hans Masoe) dealing with the accidental death of their young son who ran out into the street following the family dog.  He is killed by young teenage driver Jason (Jeremy Hewett).  When Becca’s sister Izzy (Lynette Itagia Fesuluai) announces her pregnancy, and Becca’s Mother (Nastassia Bianca-Wolfgramm) adds in her extraordinary motherly sting, Becca and Howie must come to terms with the new life or fragment beneath the weight of blame and sorrow.

I was watching with an audience which included a multicultural girl’s school party from Henderson.  Many of them were reluctant to be there at first but as soon as Izzy and Becca started to fight and the Samoan swear words tumbled out, they were hooked!  The screams of recognition and delight were infectious. 

Izzy is the driver of the comedy in this production. Lynette Itagia Fesuluai is a natural comedian: full of energy, life, staunchness, potential violence and misguided passion. 

The heart of the play is Becca. Joanna Mika-Toloa has captured the complexity of this painfully contained and private woman with drive and passion.  As she explores her own truth and impulses she has the potential to blow us away by allowing that pent-up love, sorrow and anger to release. 

Her husband Howie (Hans Masoe) is a complex warm and handsome volcano ready to blow and when given the opportunity is powerful and dangerous.  But the tender moment with his wife were moving and totally believable.

Nastassia Bianca Wolfgramm explores a Samoan mum who lost a 30 year old drug addict son.  She has the golden nugget scene with Becca where she shares with her daughter for the first time the pain that just won’t go away ever.  It is intimate, honest and quiet.

The play is best in the quiet moments when actors are intimate and clear in their actions.  Vulnerable Teenage Driver Jason (Jeremy Hewett) explores the guilt of killing the son but also the need of reconciliation.  His sharing with Becca of his prom night adventure is exuberant and touching, not only as a visual storytelling but for the understanding of what Becca is going to miss.

Vicky Yiannoutsos has brought her experience as a film director into this production.  She captures the intimate moments with the cast and with simple staging allows the actors to work the script.  

All the actors work with US Accents.  They vary from Bronx, Jersey girls to East Coast to California but it doesn’t matter, we get the idea. The play could well have worked with a Samoan Family living in Te Atatu!

Student productions are about the development of the trainee actors and this one is a gem.  It will be important to follow these actors as they continue to put the hard yards into training.  The Pasifika flowers will bloom. 


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