It's something a parent never wants to go through: the death of a child. Lara Brier and Richard St. Peter have gone through it every day this year, in a theatrical sense.
Brier plays Becca, a mother who has lost her 4-year-old son, in Actors Guild of Lexington's production of David Lindsay-Abaire's play Rabbit Hole, which opens Friday at the Downtown Arts Center. St. Peter is artistic director at Actors Guild and director of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. He's also Brier's husband in real life.
"I became interested in it because, being the father of two children, you always wonder, 'What if?'" St. Peter says. "How would you react?"
"As I had been talking to Lara about the show, I felt it was something we could do well together."
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Says Brier: "I haven't lost a child. But certainly, you find yourself in situations where it could have happened. Both of my children have been in situations where I easily could have lost them — they could have died. You worry about that sort of stuff as a parent, so this piece seemed like a natural fit for me."
Brier and St. Peter's children are Olivia, 9, and Aidan, 3. The kids have been present during Rabbit Hole rehearsals, and Brier and St. Peter say that can make the story all the more poignant, as when Brier is playing a scene about her son's death and Aidan comes in and says, "Mommy."
St. Peter emphasizes that Rabbit Hole "is not a play about a dead kid." The play is about how the family deals with it, including Becca's husband, Howie, played by Bob Singleton; Becca's sister, played by Tara Adkins; and Howie's mother, played by Gina Scott-Lynaugh.
"The play starts eight months after the accident, so you never see the little boy," St. Peter says. "He's not a character in the play. He's kind of on the periphery, throughout the whole play. It really deals with how do we as people deal with traumatic experiences? It's a wonderful case study of human beings."
That said, there was a natural reluctance to dive into such a traumatic topic, particularly on Brier's part.
"There are definitely some scenes I feel more comfortable with and quick to learn the lines and quick to go there than others," she says. "But, ultimately, it's my job, and I have to find a way to get there."
Love and the stage
Although they make much of their lives in theater now, Brier found the stage before St. Peter, who aimed to become a professional baseball player. The couple met when they were students at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.
St. Peter first saw Brier onstage as Anna in a production of The King and I.
Seeing her was an "aha," moment for St. Peter, who says he decided right then that he wanted to marry Brier.
They both work in theater, but they haven't worked together that often. Early in their marriage, that was because Brier's specialty was musicals, which St. Peter says he does not like to direct. "So she was able to forge a career path without me getting in the way," he says.
The other reason is children. Since Olivia was born, they have avoided being in productions at the same time because they couldn't afford the baby-sitting fees. Now, the kids are old enough — Aidan will be 4 in March — to behave during rehearsals.
This play is 'much more personal'
The bigger conflict now: How much do they bring their work home?
"I try to stay away from it as much as possible," St. Peter says of the play.
Brier says, "I talk about it non-stop."
Brier was Gertrude in St. Peter's production of Hamlet last year, but both agree that they've talked about Rabbit Hole around the house more "because the circumstances are so much more personal," he says. "Whenever our son wakes up in the morning or our daughter goes to school, it's right there, so she's constantly wanting to talk about it. I'm thinking, 'I'm watching SportsCenter, leave me alone. I don't want to think about it.' "
Brier says, "I find myself being more sensitive to certain moments between Rick and I and with the kids, and I know that stems from the play. I know I'm projecting things into my own life."
St. Peter acknowledges, "I'm doing the same thing."
But working on the play and even dealing with it at home have adjusted the couple's perspective on the tragedy of losing a child.
"Life does move on," Brier says. "And you do, hopefully, move forward, and you don't get stuck and wallow. Knowing that there's hope in the story, and the characters are moving forward at their own pace, I like to think about the hope, and that Becca's going to get there."
St. Peter says, "It's a play about a family ... and the thing you learn in the play is that despite this tragedy, these four people love each other. They're not sure how to talk to each other, they sort of talk around each other, but they're not quitting on each other."