×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A happy jump for ‘Rabbit’

Scripter Abaire's stage play proved suitable for "opening"

Stage plays have a spotty record making the jump to the screen, even when the playwright is the one doing the jumping.

For every “Amadeus,” which took flight in Milos Forman’s film version, there’s an “Equus” — by the same playwright, Peter Shaffer, and no less a sensation on Broadway — that lands on movie screens with a thud.

“I think the mistake that a lot of playwrights make is ‘Oh, I’ll just chop this scene into pieces and I’ll put it in different locations.’ And there’s a lot more to it than that,” says playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire.

Lindsay-Abaire’s movie credits now include “Rabbit Hole,” his adaptation of his Pulitzer and Tony-winning play about a couple trying to reconnect after the death of their son.

If his play made an unusually successful transition to the movies, Abaire observes it might be because the play already lent itself to “opening up.”

For one, the play takes place over a span of time. “There’s no real ticking clock,” he says. “And since the plot is very much about people mourning in their own way and grieving on their own clocks, time was sort of fluid anyway, so it lent itself to a more circuitous journey.”

In the stage version, many offstage scenes were described: a confrontation in a grocery store, the couple’s group therapy sessions, and more. “I thought this is great,” says Abaire, “I can go to all of those places, and this couple’s world got that much bigger as a result.”

Along the way he discovered that opening the story up also changed it: “It feels like the play was more about a woman who had actively shut out the world.

“But by opening it up, just by design, the movie became more about the couple.”

He trimmed aggressively, knowing that pages of dialogue could be boiled down to a closeup, but he worried about cutting the play’s laugh lines. Humor, he felt, was essential lest the grimness of the situation become “unbearable.”

“A couple of them were in the Broadway production and would kill every night,” he says. “Me being a laugh whore, I do miss those laughs.”

Only in a Toronto screening did he realize he’d written new laughs — and helmer John Cameron Mitchell had found a few, too.

Case in point: a smash cut from husband Howie and a friend getting stoned before therapy to the two of them trying to be dour and serious in the group.

“That gets a huge laugh,” says Abaire. “That’s alchemy. As a writer, I don’t know that I know how to do that. I feel you can only find that, maybe in the editorial room, but probably not until it’s in front of an audience. But it’s not something that I do.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: The Writer:
Pragmatic scribes fulfill visions | Scribes have eye for crime | ‘Conviction’ drama extended to set | On the loneliness of kings | A happy jump for ‘Rabbit’ | Writers: Freshmen standouts

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Little Women Movie

    Alexandre Desplat on Pushing the Boundaries With 'Little Women'

    The slate of awards hopefuls is new each year, but there is always a sense of continuity, of new contenders’ connections to the past. For example, Alexandre Desplat, a strong Golden Globes and Oscar possibility this year for his score to Sony’s “Little Women,” can trace the influence of his predecessors on his work. Growing [...]

  • Joker

    'Joker' Sequel Being Explored by Todd Phillips, Warner Bros.

    “Joker,” the $1 billion-grossing comic-book smash, may take another look at the fraying mind of Arthur Fleck. Warner Bros. film chief Toby Emmerich has met with writer and director Todd Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver to explore possible ideas for a sequel to the drama about the early days of the Clown Prince of Crime. [...]

  • Mindy Kaling photographed by Victoria Stevens

    Mindy Kaling to Host 22nd Costume Designers Guild Awards

    Mindy Kaling announced Wednesday that she will host the 22nd Costume Designers Guild Awards. “I’m thrilled to be hosting the Costumes Designers Guild Awards. Costume design and fashion are close to my heart, and I promise many, possibly too many, outfit changes,” Kaling wrote on Instagram. View this post on Instagram Hey guys! I’m so [...]

  • FROZEN 2 - In Walt Disney

    Will 'Frozen 2' Heat Up a Frosty Box Office?

    How enduring is “Frozen” fever? Six years after audiences were first introduced to Princesses Anna and Elsa, Disney is returning to Arendelle this weekend with the big-screen debut of “Frozen 2. The original made history as the highest-grossing animated movie ever, raking in $1.2 billion worldwide in 2013. This time around, the powerful sisters are [...]

  • Nederland, Amsterdam, 09-10-2019-Orwa Nyrabia, artistic director

    IDFA Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia on Documentary Cinema's Bright Future

    “Where do you want to start,” Orwa Nyrabia says, with a smile. “I’m in full festival mode!” Just a year into the job and Nyrabia, IDFA’s artistic director, can’t wait to get stuck into his second edition. The festival’s founder, Ally Derks, who bowed out in 2017 after 30 years at the helm, was a [...]

  • Timothee Chalamet poses for photographers at

    Timothée Chalamet to Make London Stage Debut With Eileen Atkins in '4000 Miles'

    Timothee Chalemet is set to take to the London stage for the first time, appearing next spring in Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “4000 Miles.” Matthew Warchus will direct the production at The Old Vic, which will also star Eileen Atkins (“The Crown,” “Gosford Park”). The play opens April 2020. It turns on the story [...]

  • CJ-CGV Cinemas

    CJ CGV Sells $286 Million Stake in Asian Cinema Businesses

    CJ CGV, the Korean movie theaters giant, is to raise $286 million from the sale of a slice of its Indonesian, Vietnamese and Chinese businesses. The company, which has its own stock market listing and is affiliated to the CJ Group, which includes CJ E&M and CJ Entertainment, said this week that it had sold [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content