BY LOU BUTTINO
The Centre Stage Fringe Series production of “When The Rain Stops Falling” by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell is a decades-spanning story of four generations of a specific family tree.
This company’s cast and crew, under Chris Rose’s strong direction, using Mr. Bovell’s words pack an enormous amount of drama, emotion, thought and even humor in a short one hour and 40 minutes and on a single set stage.
The play is about many aspects of relationships, both intergenerational and intragenerational, as well as our relationships to things and the planet earth. What have we taught, good or bad, to those who come after us? What have we learned, correctly or incorrectly from those who preceded us? Can the older generation learn from the younger? Can the younger provide legacy to the older? These are all questions raised during this intriguing and occasionally confusing play.
Some answers are, at least, suggested but many are left up to the audience to pursue on their own. What actually can we learn from the “past”? Do we learn from our mistakes? Do we resolve to do it better and when appropriate, “not to repeat it”? Again, “When The Rain Stops Falling,” asks and partially answers these questions.
The story itself is full of symbols and metaphors to subtly convey what the author is trying to say. Things like fish representing many levels of nourishment to the characters and us all, and hats and umbrellas. The rain itself is a powerful presence (starting before the show begins and ending literally seconds before final lights out). Among other things it represents water as the source of life but also the frequent cause of death. There is also the understood question of what will come when the rain stops falling. Will new life, with appropriate light and feeding, take hold, or will all things good be either washed away or stuck in the mud! And how long do we wait for the rain to stop falling before we take action to make change and be effective?
The interaction of the characters explores many areas. Communication between parents and their children is explored. When is it enough? When is it too much? Do you actively decide to cut it off, or let it die out naturally? Several times during the play it is commented that no communication at all is sometimes an example of great communication. Is unconditional love warranted under any and all circumstances? Do children accept that their parents are worthy whether they be good or bad? Do parents lament or celebrate their children’s inevitable independence and freedom? Are generations sometimes, either overtly or subvertly, jealous of each others’ success? The story also looks at what we pass on and/or carry forward be they memories, nostalgia, heirlooms or just plain junk. Who decides what category any of it falls into, and how?
The story contains sadness, darkness, death and episodes of joy. Humor comes through at just the right depth and frequency to add to the story telling without disrupting the message(s). It is told through a series of scenes that cover 80 years of this family’s history. It is not told chronologically nor in true flashback style. Occasionally multiple time periods and generations appear simultaneously. Sometimes it is just to continue a plot thread but sometimes, although there is no direct contact between the characters from one era to the next, there is definite connection across time and space. The director helps the audience keep track of the action and stay focused on it by projecting time and place updates on the rear façade of the stage. At times the action on stage becomes quite hectic with it seeming that the characters themselves get confused as to who they are and what they are doing. A very effective device to mimic the real life question of, “Who am I?”, that is subtly presented but impactful.
I haven’t even touched upon the subplots of global warming and cataclysmic upheavals and our frequent inability to effectively deal with them despite our presumed best preparations. There is much, much more contained within this work that I cannot effectively report on here. Let’s just say that this a complex thought provoking work.
Now about the cast of Joshua Barnes, Simon Crowe, Alexandra Eshenbaugh, Cara Ann Handsbee, Anne Robards, Trevor Furlong and Sara Tolson. I cannot select out any of them for individual praise. That is because each and every one of them is perfectly cast and spectacular. They interact with each other naturally and with effect. The story also requires each of them to present short revelations of story and or character through monologues that are given with excellent timing and emotion with just the right dramatic emphasis in every case. Overall the emotional range of all the cast members is impressive. This is especially so since the range of experience of the cast is quite broad from those with just a few shows to their credit to those with 30 plus years.
Director Chris Rose certainly deserves much credit for weaving together the talents of the cast so seamlessly and naturally. Because of his and their talents they belong together on the stage. Mr. Rose stages the action, with great use of space, wonderfully. He surely got the most out of his cast.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, this production is presented with a single set stage. With just a couple of tables, several chairs and crates for seating, a cabinet, bench, coatrack and simple window, you might refer to it as “minimalist”. But, in fact, it virtually “fills” the stage. It effectively serves as multiple flats/rooms on 2 continents, a beach, a park and even the summit of Ayers Rock. Just a side comment about the device of the window in the set. At various times during the story each character gazes out of the window. The question is what is the window serving as? Is it a rear-view window through which they are reviewing where they’ve been and what they have or haven’t accomplished? Or is it a forward windshield, through which they are trying to see what is to come and what to prepare for?
No credits are given but both the lighting and sound were well done adjuncts to the production.
This award-winning show is not well known but it certainly is being well-produced, presented and performed at Centre Stage. I was impressed by content and performance and strongly recommend you going to see one of the remaining performances.
“When The Rain Stops Falling” continues Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 7-8 at 7 p.m. at Centre Stage, 501 River St. in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 233-6733 or visit http://www.centrestage.org/.
And don’t miss the post-show talkback Pizza With a Purpose on Wednesday, Nov. 8 with director Chris Rose and the cast and moderated by Carolina Curtain Call’s Sandy Staggs.