From set to cast, 'Rabbit Hole' top-notch

When you first enter the Black Box for Nevada Conservatory Theatre's "Rabbit Hole," you're met by an intriguing representation of a quality home.

The detail - a hanging television set, hanging cooking pans, a full laundry basket, a sink area that features a half-full glass of orange juice - suggests we're dropping in on busy lives. The odd angles of bookshelves and a jutting-upward bed tell us there's something off-balance about this household. And the single light that, just before showtime, illuminates a tiny chair dangling from the ceiling hints that whatever trouble there is has to do with a child.

That's a lot of information for a set (designed by Frank Strebel) and lights (Josh Lentner) to communicate before a single line of dialogue. This is a textbook example of how well design can establish a psychological environment.

The production that follows is equally revealing.

David Lindsay-Abaire's script deals with a young couple who have lost their child in a car accident. But it's really about loss, about how we all deal differently with grief. Under the delicate direction of Ann-Marie Pereth, we recognize ourselves in these loving family members who don't know how to comfort one another.

Pereth gets us to believe we're watching a group of intimates. You see the give and take, the anger always tinged with love.

If there's ever been a better cast in a University of Nevada, Las Vegas drama, I've missed it.

Alan Dronek as the child's father is the sort of actor who expresses layers of emotion with a mere wrinkle of the brow. Dhyana Dahl as the mother and Vanecia J as her sometimes flaky sister catch the spirit of devoted siblings who rarely see eye to eye. Joan Mullaney as the eccentric matriarch resists the temptation to kid the part.

Dakota Baker, who reinvents himself with every role, shows us, with skilled restraint, the messy confusions of the high-schooler who killed the chid. Baker's character wants to visit the unreceptive family to help him try to make sense of what's happened. Like the rest of the characters, he unfairly blames himself.

How fortunate that the actors, director and designers have the talent to move audiences of strangers into thinking, "I know these people. My life is on that stage."

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.