In the opening scene of Australian playwright Andrew Bovell’s WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING, the audience is both startled and perplexed by a lamenting wail and a fish dropped from the sky. I couldn’t help but wonder what I was in for.
It’s 2039 in Alice Springs, Australia, when we first meet Gabriel York, a father who nervously anticipates a visit from his estranged son. He bemoans over the question he knows will be posed, “where do I come from?” We’re soon off on a journey through time, exploring the family dynamic through four generations of the York and the Law families. Bouncing back and forth between the 1960’s, 1980’s and towards the future, a sordid story unfolds revealing the deviant dysfunction of a father, and the repercussions the surrounding family members reap. Director Robert Bauer aids the time changes with multi-media televisions to keep the audience on track. Through a series of scenes peppered with both humor and melancholy, we see how the sins of the father devastate generation after generation.
Throughout the story Bovell brings his characters both literally and in memoriam to the sandy wilderness of the Coorong, a southern Aussie coastal national park and lagoon ecosystem. The Coorong’s metaphoric imagery isn’t lost on the audience: the vast loneliness of its beaches, the power of the elements, and the rawness of its primal inhabitants. These images encompass Bovell’s characters, particularly his star crossed lovers, young Gabriel York and Gabrielle Law, aptly played by Jesse Lehman and Jackie Sherman, complete with their own modern-day R & J chemistry. We meet some of the story’s tragic heroes in their prime, and in their decline, reminding us all of our fleeting youth, and how easily our lives can be altered by a single transgression.
A cast of nine talented actors take us through the story; particular stand-outs include Carole Mancini, as the elder Elizabeth Law, Marjorie Goldman as the tragic Gabrielle, and Julia Wise’s emotional portrayal of the young Elizabeth Law. Bovell’s picture of the naïve wife at the launch of London’s post-modern movement toward “enlightenment” whilst his female hero is in the middle of a family crisis of epic proportions is beautifully ironic. The wife’s praise of Diderot and her place in the new era says it all, “A woman without passion in her life has nothing to do but wait.” Let’s just say she gets more passion than she asked for. Beautifully satiric, Mr. Bovell.
Tragically, pardon the pun, it’s far too late in the story for these events to unfold, and keep the audience gripped. We don’t love the characters enough, Bovell places far too much emphasis on spectacle and metaphor, and lacks in character development and an active plot. However, the actors made up for what the story lacked. Simply put, I liked the acting better than the writing. I greatly appreciated the attention to detail, the adroit accents, and Kim Pelle’s sound and light design. A story worth examining, performances worth seeing, WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING doesn’t pack a punch, but does make one stop and think.
WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING
Written by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Robert Bauer
May 3 -18, 2013
Allens Lane Theater
601 West Allens Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19119