The Fall to Earth
nytheatre.com review by Leslie Bramm
January 14, 2012
The Fall to Earth tells the story of Fay (Deborah Hedwall) and her estranged daughter Rachel (Jolie Curtsinger) who reluctantly agree to take a trip together to an unnamed city in order to bury their son and brother Kenny, who was gay and for an unknown reason has killed himself. Neither woman really wants to be there, let alone having to share a bed and each other’s company. They are also there to clear out Kenny’s apartment. We hear about this action, as opposed to seeing it happen, and herein lies my frustration with the play. Much of the drama is told to us, explained in well written monologues, and clever exchanges. We see very little of it in action.
Set mostly in a motel room, the play shows us Fay and Rachel arguing back and forth as family secrets begin to vesuviate. A brief scene in a police department provides the opportunity for family lies to take hold. These lies become the driving force for the rest of the play. Fay and Rachel are there to identify Kenny’s body. He used a shotgun to do the deed, and has left himself, and this family, in quite a mess.
A guileless police officer, Terry (Amelia Campbell), unknowingly becomes a key fixture between a twisted mother/daughter dynamic. In a gesture of comfort and concern, Terry shows up at the motel with an armful of food and compassion. Once exposed to Fay, and her disjointed, manic ramblings, Terry begins to wonder if this gesture on her part is a good idea. Fay confronts Terry about the nature of her marriage, and tries to instill doubt about the kind of man her husband might be.
In a very funny “pinching” moment, Terry is driven out the door both shocked and wounded. After driving away the cop, Fay sets in on her daughter, but this time it’s Rachel who gets the upper hand, and forces her mother to relive the abuse she heaped upon her and her brother. In a beautiful monologue, Rachel tells us the story of watching her father smoke a cigarette in the backyard, as the abuse went on. When he finished smoking and ground out the butt, the beatings would be finished for the time being. This is a wonderful detail. The play has quite a few moments like this.
Joel Drake Johnson’s The Fall to Earth is quite funny and at times poignant, but fails to become a symbolic exploration of a dark and sometimes demented dynamic, where the nature of relationships with both the living and dead are explored. Subjects are brought up, then dismissed. Johnson plots his play in a linear, realistic, fashion, making it feel like a TV show or movie. The text never quite lifts the characters past the argument.
The strength of this production is the ensemble cast. All 3 women give honest, gritty performances, and it is the power of their relationship, their ease on stage, and ability to play off each other, that carries the play and keeps it compelling.
Deborah Hedwall as Fay is slightly mad, but it’s her rich emotional depth that makes us feel for Fay past her craziness. Hedwall is in complete command of her instrument and is able to flip from funny to scary with no problem.
Jolie Curtsinger as Rachel, the embittered daughter, is infuriating in a good way. She keeps the pressure on her mother and does so through a series of lies of her own. Curtsinger conveys the disgust of a daughter who’s witnessed the tyranny of an abusive parent. Her rage at her mother and sadness for her brother are balanced nicely.
Amelia Campbell as Terry the cop is terrific. Campbell plays the skittish and unsure cop with aplomb. Campbell has an extremely mobile face, and is able to move through a series of complex emotions and insecurities while standing completely still.
Joe Brancato directs the play with simple subtlety and allows the actors to create the realities of their characters. Surrounding himself with such a talented trio must make any director’s job easier and more enjoyable. This gives Brancato the chance to fine tune these characters, and he guides them through some very interesting emotional details.
James J. Fenton’s set design creates an emotionally dead motel room, and his color schemes create the mood of the play perfectly. Lighting by Todd Wren and costumes by Patricia Doherty also fit perfectly with the play’s tone.
The Fall to Earth gives us some fascinating characters and very real emotional wounds. It just never spreads its poetic wings to take flight as a solid piece of theatre.