David Lindsay-Abaire: From Rabbit Hole to Good People
When playwright David Lindsay-Abaire looks for his next project, he always pushes himself in a new direction. Over the past decade, his work has spanned both across genres from absurd comedy to naturalistic tragedy and through the different mediums of plays, musicals, and movies. “I love saying yes to things I haven’t done before,” he says. “I challenge myself to do something different just to see if I can.”
Lindsay-Abaire’s early career was distinguished by off-kilter farces, such as Fuddy Meers, a 2001 play about an amnesiac on a wild, and somewhat violent, journey of self-discovery. His play Rabbit Hole, seen at the Huntington in 2006, was a striking departure, a turn to naturalistic drama that follows a family grieving the loss of a young child. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and in 2010, he adapted it into a well-received movie starring Nicole Kidman in an Oscar- nominated performance.
In adapting Rabbit Hole, Lindsay-Abaire expanded the world of the characters, moving unseen moments from the play to front and center in the film. “[It was] a great opportunity, because I had lived with the characters for so long,” he says. “What the play had in its back pocket that most plays don’t is a fairly involved off-stage life that I could pillage and put onscreen.” The husband’s possible affair that’s only alluded to in the play became a backbone of the movie’s plot. Many other moments, like a support group that the mother joins, transform from an unseen description to an onscreen depiction.
Following the stage premiere of Rabbit Hole, Lindsay-Abaire crafted the book and lyrics for Shrek the Musical and wrote the screenplay for the upcoming feature Rise of the Guardians for Dreamworks, as well as Disney’s prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi. (He also wrote the screenplays for the animated movie Robots and the 2008 fantasy film Inkheart.) A spirit of challenge continues even in Good People, which premiered in 2011. “Before I wrote Rabbit Hole, I had never done a straightforward drama,” he says. “For Good People, I feel like the canvas has expanded a little bit, and I’m writing more with a social mind and about current events.”
Good People finds Lindsay-Abaire writing about his hometown of South Boston for the first time, a setting that will now likely continue to appear in his work. “Once I got a taste of it, I thought, I have to go back to that neighborhood, because it’s so interesting and rich,” he says. “In particular, the way South Boston has transformed is really interesting to me, and a new play that I am writing is similar in tone to Good People.”
For another play in progress, Lindsay-Abaire is returning to the wacky farces that made his career as a writer. “The other thing that I’m writing is much closer to the earlier plays that I wrote, absurdist comedies,” he says. “People keep saying to me, ‘When are you going to write another funny play like Fuddy Meers?’ I thought, ‘I don’t know, I’ll give it a go.’”
As Lindsay-Abaire returns to the rougher, less controlled form of his early career, he expects the new work to benefit from the more traditional plays he has written in recent years. “I have improved in terms of my craft, so it is interesting to go back to the tone and style of those early plays, but infusing it with some of the craft I’ve gained,” he says. He is undecided whether the next Southie play or the comedy will see the stage first. “They’re very different plays,” he says. “They fight in my head over who is going to get written first.”
— Charles Haugland
Geneva Carr, Donna Bullock, and Maureen Anderman in the Huntington's 2006 production
of David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole. Photo: Eric Antoniou