Reverse engineering “show, don’t tell” in RABBIT HOLE

In my last post, I discussed how the first scene of David Lindsay-Abaire’s RABBIT HOLE is an excellent example of “show, don’t tell.”

Now I’m going to figure out how he might have constructed this scene.

What the Play is About

The play is about a couple trying to deal with the accidental death of their four-year-old son, Danny. The main character is Becca, Danny’s mother.

How the Main Character Is in Hell

I don’t remember where I first heard this, but one way to create a plot for your play is to figure out what your main character values most, and then take it away. Or, figure out what is the worst thing that could happen to your main character, and have that happen.

“How Could Becca Be in Hell?”

Suppose the playwright asked himself, how could Becca be in hell? It should be something to do with children.

So, make someone close to her get pregnant. Who could that someone be that would create the most hell for Becca?

How about her sister, Izzy?

Better yet, how about her irresponsible, partying, can’t-hold-down-a-job sister?

Even better, how about her sister who is sleeping with a guy who has a girlfriend?

“How Can The Hell Be Worse?

Now suppose the playwright asked himself, when can be the worst time Izzy could tell Becca?

How about if Izzy gets pregnant long enough after Danny’s death that Becca might think she’s dealing with it well?

Now, how about when Becca has finally brought herself to give Danny’s clothes to Goodwill?

“What Fresh Hell Is This?”

Now, what’s the worst way Izzy could tell her?

How about if she drags it out?  If she starts by telling this story that she finds funny but that she knows Becca will be appalled by.

Then she excuses her behavior by saying that she’s coping with Danny’s death, too.

Then, she doesn’t really say she’s pregnant, but hints at it.  So Becca has to say it.

The Result

Becca is in hell.  And the first scene skillfully, unobtrusively, lets us know what Becca’s hell is, and how it’s getting worse.

… Or the Playwright Might have Thought of it Totally Differently

Have you ever had that experience where someone tells you how great something is about your play, and how well you constructed it? And you smile, and nod, and say “thank you, I really appreciate that.”

But inwardly you’re thinking, “That was totally by accident!”

So maybe David Lindsay-Abaire constructed the first scene of RABBIT HOLE in a different way.

But in any case, it’s an excellent example to learn from.


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