By John Quinn, EncoreMichigan.com
The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale is known for making high art out of low comedy, but once again the company demonstrates an uncanny understanding of the principles of great drama. Director Jaime Warrow, fresh from her remarkable performance in “Faith Healer” at The Abreact, has assembled a splendid ensemble to tackle yet another of the more complex scripts produced in recent memory. The result is utterly captivating.
Rarely do plays come with the warning “Some assembly required,” but Australian playwright Andrew Bovell hands his audience a jigsaw puzzle without a box top picture to guide us. “When the Rain Stops Falling,” named Time magazine’s Best Play of 2010, is an atmospheric, often surreal one act that boldly skips around time and space. It reminds one of the biblically inspired aphorism, “The sins of the father shall be visited upon the son.” In Bovell’s world, the greatest sin committed between generations is silence.
“When the Rain Stops Falling,” which plays through January 28, covers roughly 80 years and the interweaving of two families, one English, one Australian. The narrative in non-linear; the play begins in 2039 when Gabriel York (Travis Reiff), is expecting a visit from the grown son (Bailey Boudreau) he had abandoned as a child. Abandonment runs in the family; the setting jumps to London, 1988, when Elizabeth Law (Connie Cowper) receives a tense visit from her estranged son, Gabriel (Michael Lopetrone). Gabriel’s father had left when he was 7, and Elizabeth has adamantly refused to discuss the circumstances. In his search to “know who he is … Where he belongs” he follows his father’s path to Australia, where he meets the coincidently named Gabrielle York (Ashley Shamoon), a lonely woman with a tragic past. He fathers a child – the Gabriel York who opened the play!
The delicate weave of Bovell’s plot and characters cannot be easily described. The rapid leaps through time are disorienting, but not disturbing. Warrow’s direction resembles choreography as characters move in and out of scenes, sometimes sharing the stage with a younger or older version of themselves. The performances are thoughtful and deliberate; the artists are exploring the very souls of their characters.
The Ringwald’s program graciously provides a synopsis of scenes – which are duplicated, title card fashion, in Mikey Brown’s nifty videography – so we have a running start of knowing where and when the action is happening. Also in the program is a family tree, but there’s a date wrong on it; one more sign that this is one tough play to understand.
But understand it we do. The pieces come together, the picture is whole. It is a sad but satisfying portrait of four generations of dysfunctional family, underscored by the symbolic gloomy weather that each of them suffers under. “When the Rain Stops Falling” offers the hope that the cycle can be broken, like a ray of sunshine can break through the most forbidding sky.
Get tickets and showtimes at EncoreMichigan.com.
John Quinn reviews local theater productions for www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.