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British scribe Nina Raine's 2006 piece focuses on Bella (Kate Black-Spence), a single woman celebrating her 29th birthday with a night out at the bar with four of her closest friends—most of whom have never met each other, thanks to Bella's remarkable ability to compartmentalize her life. The two men—both exes of Bella's—and three women quickly fall into patterns of flirtation: "everybody trying to fuck each other," as it's framed by Bella, who pouts whenever she's not the object of attention. But Bella's self-involvement is tempered by a secret: Unbeknownst to most in the group, her father (Sean Sinitski, showing up in flashbacks) is in the hospital on his deathbed.
Without that coloring, Raine's setup of boozy, bawdy overtures and insults devolving into gender battles could sound on paper like a bad sitcom (Whitney, let's say). But Raine—now better known for the much acclaimed Tribes, which gets a mounting at Steppenwolf next season—is smarter than the situation. Her collection of chatty, sparring partners is graced with sharp, witty dialogue and some genuinely provocative ideas about modern expectations of women and men—particularly how women relate to other women both in the workplace and on the prowl.
Director Elly Green, herself a recent transplant from England, stages the proceedings with care. (The way she and lighting designer Mac Vaughey handle Dad's appearances at the edges of scenes, when Bella gets pulled into a memory, is especially well done). Black-Spence deftly manages to make us care for a character who actively seeks to be disliked, and the rest of the cast—including Dana Black as a blowsy man-eater, Melanie Derleth as the prim BFF and Nicholas Harazin and Dennis William Grimes as the exes—is greatly adept. Raine doesn't quite stick the landing—her ending feels a little overtidy and unsatisfying—but the terrific ensemble and bracing honesty of her characters' arguments make Rabbit worth hopping to.