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Second Pants production a 'beautiful mess'

The cast of "Rabbit Hole," from left: Joe Zastrow, Michelle Juntunen, Amanda Wenberg, Cathy Berggren and Jake Neuman. Submitted photo

Move over, Nicole Kidman. While that Australian American starlet continues to work on her film adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole," the Pulitzer Prize-winning play will soon be staged at Duluth's very own Play Ground theater.

"If I think about that, I'll die; I will not be able to function if I think about what awards this has won," said Kelli Latuska, the play's director. "It is awesome to be able to work on [the play] ... but it won a Pulitzer because it has a wonderful script, and that's what drew me to it."

Lindsay-Abaire's play centers on Becca and Howie Corbett, whose 4-year-old is run down by a 17-year-old motorist, Jason. The couple is joined in the grieving process by Nat and Izzy, Becca's mother and sister. ("Rabbit Hole" featured "Sex and the City" cast member Cynthia Nixon in its lead role when it premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2006.)

"This one's sort of dark -- and really messy," Latuska said. "The characters are a disaster. So, it's really compelling because of that.

"It's just a really good script."

In addition to helming the project, Latuska is also co-producing it with Michelle Juntunen through their production company, By the Seat of Your Pants, which launched in June of '07 with Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love."

"Rabbit Hole" is the first play they've staged since then.

"I would not do more than one a year because we tend to do more-involved shows," Latuska told the Budgeteer. "I think I would maybe go nuts if I had to do more than one of these a year. You just invest a lot of your brain."

She and Juntunen actually had set their sights on Lindsay-Abaire's play just two weeks after "Fool for Love" closed, but life -- more accurately, work -- got in the way: Juntunen was involved with some other productions, and Latuska's been busy with the Dink Tank sketch shows at Renegade Comedy Theatre.

"It was a big switch -- a big, big switch," Latuska noted. "It's really hard to not find things that may or may not be intended as funny. A lot of the comedy we do with Dink Tank is just not appropriate comedy -- it's really inappropriate -- so it was really hard to shut that off and not find humor in some of the lines that maybe are intended to be a little more serious. And maybe that's intended -- I don't know for sure, I'm not that smart."

Extreme modesty aside, Latuska is that smart, and she can tell you exactly what she likes about Lindsay-Abaire.

"From what I've read of his, he's got an incredible attention to human behavior and intricacies that occur that most people would see as being really banal," she said. "He is able to eye out how important they actually are."

'Forever Changes'

Bringing to life the Duluth incarnation of Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole" is a cast Latuska calls "astonishingly talented."

Filling Nixon's (and, reportedly, Kidman's) shoes as Becca is co-producer Juntunen; Joe Zastrow, a former classmate of Latuska's at UWS, will play Howie; the role of Nat will be handled by local theater veteran Cathy Berggren; Jake Neuman, a University of Minnesota Duluth student who's involved with Dink Tank, plays Jason; and Amanda Wenberg, whom Latuska calls "one of the most talented actresses I've ever seen," will take on the role of Izzy.

"She's a little eccentric," Latuska said of the Izzy character, "and I say 'eccentric' only because I think the rest of the population will see her that way. I don't; I liked her the most. She has kind of a weird sense of humor, and she doesn't really fit into the box that society's given her to try and fit into.

"She's found interesting ways to live within those weird parameters."

Latuska said the play's most tragic characters aren't actually the grieving parents but the dead child's grandmother and the teenager responsible for the horrendous accident.

"So, it's a very interesting mix of characters -- and they're very true to life," she said. "I've never lost a child, so I can't speak from that, but they all seem just very realistic. [The play is] a horrible but beautiful mess."

Because of this, Latuska said "Rabbit Hole" is a bit difficult to direct.

"For a number of reasons ... and I didn't know it would be going into it," she said with a laugh, pointing out that it was actually Juntunen who picked out the play. "It is really emotionally charged, but you don't how emotionally charged until you start rehearsing. We go home very tired and crabby, because it's hard not to get wrapped into it. It's just exhausting -- not physically exhausting, just really emotionally exhausting.

"But it's such a beautiful story and a beautiful character study that it's hard not to continue with it and keep driving as hard as you can."

NEWS TO USE

By the Seat of Your Pants Productions will stage "Rabbit Hole" at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15-17, 22-24 at The Play Ground, 11 E. Superior St. (in the Tech Village). Cost is $10. Advance tickets are being sold at www.duluthplayground.org.

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