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Monday, 12 September 2011 17:26

'Falling' is powerful and moving

Written by Steve Callahan
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Deanna Jent's wonderful new play, Falling, is having its premiere at the Mustard Seed Theatre—and it's the most powerful, moving new play I've seen in years. Luckily the fates are giving you another chance to see it: the run has been extended through September 18. You’ll not want to miss it.

I don't often gush about shows I've seen. But Falling is so out of the ordinary that I'm compelled to urge everyone I know to see it.

Falling shows us a family as it struggles to deal with autism. And Jent writes from her own family's experience. I admit that I went to see this play with some trepidation. Frankly I tend to avoid plays about diseases; they often tend to be opportunistic, sometimes maudlin or self-pitying, sometimes pushing some agenda. I tend to avoid plays about dysfunctional families; they're way too easy to write and they say little about the general human condition.

But in Falling Deanna Jent gives us a play which has none of those failings. I think I've never seen a play that so toweringly rose above my expectations. Falling is not a play about a disease; it's a compelling, gripping evening of real, intense drama—wonderfully leavened with moments of absolutely natural comedy. These are very real people we're watching.

The ensemble is superb. Michelle Hand (who has given us many fine performances) gives, I think, the best one of her career as the mother, who struggles with the massive responsibilities with which her son burdens her—deftly juggling love and fear. Greg Johnston, too, shows his personal very best as the father. Jonathan Foster is quite amazingly convincing as the severely autistic son; his authentic human need and frustration—and indeed his fragility—shine through his bizarre, compulsive behavior. Katie Donnelly as the daughter beautifully captures the resentment this girl has at the total domination her brother's condition has over the whole family. And Carmen Russell does a lovely job as the grandmother who wants to help, but whose nagging religiosity makes her simply an additional irritant.

There is a lovely shading of the darker and lighter emotions throughout. Moments of embarrassment, anger, frustration—even fear and panic—are touched with humor and irony as the parents gather their wits and their breaths after some incident. Sometimes such small flashes of humor are defensive; sometimes they’re almost like a quick embrace, reaffirming their relationship.

There’s also a shading of gently surrealistic touches against the unforgiving harsh reality of this family’s life. These are signs of a true sense of theatre.

Time and again we are impressed with the human ability to endure. Waiting for Godot is another play about bearing the unbearable. In it this exchange states the situation succinctly:

Estragon: I can't go on like this.
Vladimir: That's what you think.

Falling presents just this dilemma. Its final moment of gentle, surreal theatricality is truly inspired. We see this supremely stressed woman releasing herself into—into what? Perhaps into the grace of God. Perhaps simply into that sublimely limitless human capacity for resilience.

This play will go far. It certainly should go to the Humana Festival. I see it being widely produced all over the country. It's very, very good! And it's a most courageous exploration by a woman who knows.

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