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Look at that! (l-r) Greenhill and LaPlatney in Falling: A Wake.

Descending Into Honesty

By James Yeara

Falling: A Wake

By Gary Kirkham, directed by Laura Margolis

StageWorks/Hudson, through Sept. 28

The houselights fade. The crickets begin chirping. In the darkness, a jet in flight is heard—then an explosion. My stomach involuntarily tightens. The dim stage lights cast a dusky glow on scenic designer John Pollard’s raked set: Upstage right, a windmill’s arms slowly turn over an expanse of starlit meadow, which could exist both far away and long ago. “What was that noise?” asks a tall, thin, middle-aged man. “Harry” (Martin LaPlatney), his wife calls after him as he walks into the meadow, his faulty flashlight sending out an erratic Morse code across the field.

“What is that, a falling star?” asks the short, thin, middle-aged woman entering behind him, Elsie (Susan Greenhill), or “Pudding,” as Harry calls her. They are immediately and comfortably identifiable and believable as a couple, speaking in the shortened syntax and weighted diction of people who’ve known and loved each other. “Satellite. It’s falling too slowly,” Harold finally declares. Elsie decides to wish on what she insists is a falling star. “Just a hunk of metal. A satellite. It’s falling too slowly,” Harold repeats to undercut her romanticism, staring at the object falling somewhere out over house right. Some in the audience turn to look, too.

Then the stage lights black out and a series of thuds and crashes, increasing in tempo and volume, seem to land all around; some are metallic crashes, but the thuds are fleshly. The thuds and crashes slacken and end as abruptly as they began. When the dim stage lights cast their dusky glow on the meadow again, Elsie and Harry survey the jet debris scattered about the field. Then they focus their attention on the airline seat downstage right. The audience notices, too, then takes in the man (Kyle Filiault in a faultless performance) sitting in the airline seat, seatbelt and headphones still on. He is sitting three-quarters closed to the audience, his back visible, his face almost totally in shadow. Harold checks for a pulse: nothing. “He’s just a boy,” Elsie declares. She squats down three feet in front of him, face to face. “Sorry,” she whispers. And if the boy were alive, I know he’d believe her, because I do, and so does the audience.

Canadian playwright Gary Kirkham’s Falling: A Wake deserves an honest, believable production with actors who can be honest and believable. StageWorks/Hudson gives Falling: A Wake the treatment the script deserves. The improbable event of a man falling from the sky to land intact in a field is made plausible by the acting of Greenhill and LaPlatney, and that makes all the difference. StageWorks/Hudson artistic director Laura Margolis has, yet again, helmed a new play in its American premiere, creating a space where the epiphanies, revelations, and emotions can play out truthfully without crashing and thudding with sentimentality, pretension, or ostentation. From the gut-wrenching opening through the believable verbal sparring, canoodling, and soothing of the long-married, long-suffering couple, Falling: A Wake is fascinating theater, a play that easily could descend into mawkishness, but instead keeps its honesty from beginning to end. Its 80 minutes of plot twists and turns, its humor, its questioning of God, faith, and despair, and its redemptive ending, which is not only plausible but sincere—and all the more powerful for it—make Falling: A Wake a rare play, which earns its standing ovation, not out of habit, but out of merit.

 


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