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A CurtainUp Review
The Fall to Earth
By Elyse Sommer
But as is instantly apparent, the fifty-ish Fay (Deborah Hedwall) and thirty-ish Rachel (Jolie Curtsinger), aren't the sort of mother and daughter who see each other for anything but a family emergency. And it's very much a tragic emergency relating to Kenny, Fay's 30-year-old son and Rachels younger brother, that has brought them to James J. Fenton's flexibly designed motel room (the queen sized bed handily folds up for a middle scene in Terry (Amelia Campbell), third character in Joel Drake Johnson's one-act, three scene play.
Fay's way of dealing with the tense situation, is to hold forth without a pause. Rachel responds to Fay's compulsive and often comic chatter, with a pained expression and few words. Hedwall has thrown herself full tilt into the role of a woman who's obviously dealt with a less than happy life (you guessed it-- this is another dysfunctional drama) had a habit of turning people off with her ditzy mannerisms. So much so, that before long her voice grates on you, especially as we learn about Kenny's secret life and how it was shaped by a family in which interaction was dominated by silence and denial.
By the time that motel bed flips up and transforms the setting into a police station we know that Kenny is dead, and the also never seen father, a Vietnam veteran, has left the chore of identifying him and clearing out his apartment to the women. That's where we also meet the police officer (Campbell) who must provide details of what turns out to be a shocking finale to Kenny's sad and secret life.
Campbell's Terry completes the three-actor cast. She's touchingly sympathetic but also turns out to be an interesting if somewhat too contrived complementary character to the other two. Besides showing her to be somewhat emotionally unhinged like Fay, Johnson pushes the symmetry that connects her to the others with a too heavy hand . Like Fay, Terry isn't all that tightly wrapped and has a problem child who happens to have the same name as Rachel's son.
Since it's premiere at Chicago's smaller Steppenwolf stage, this play has had a number of other productions, including one four years ago also directed by Joe Brancato and featuring Amelia Campbell as Terry (with two of my favorite actors, Michelle Pawk and Laura Heisler playing Fay and Rachel) Brancato steers the current threesome smoothly through the emotional shifts —, from nervous dark comedy to final mother-daughter blow-up and reaching-for- catharsis moment. At just 85 minutes The Fall From Earth held my attention, even though neither the script or the actors had me quite buy into the mounting contrivances.