An extinct fish plummets from the sky: it’s a quirky bit of surrealism that opens Andrew Bovell’s richly-layered genealogical mystery When the Rain Stops Falling.
From that odd opening incident the play establishes itself as a nuanced, haunting exploration into one family’s pathos. It’s quite different from the sweeping family dramas that form a cornerstone of American theatre; rather, this intimate Australian one-act pieces together a family tree, branch by branch, by exploring the relationships between five sets of couples; it feels like sorting through the pages of a family photo album that has been torn asunder.
Bovell’s script takes us from England to Australia and spans over 80 years and four generations. The play opens with an engaging monologue delivered by Gabriel York (David Ley), at whose feet that fish drops on the day his estranged son is coming to dinner, one evening in 2039. The show is the thesis project of MFA graduate student Megan Watson, and her direction often overlaps members from disparate generations: an ancestor or a descendant will walk into the scene and quietly sit down, giving a palpable, immediate presence to both past and future. This sense of inevitability and fate is supported by the echoing of lines, and sometimes entire monologues, by different family members decades apart.
“There’s flooding in Bangladesh” is the family refrain that works its way through each generation, a well-meant admonishment in the same vein as being told to clean your plate because of starving African children. The phrase takes on another level of meaning as we learn that in the play’s present, there really is flooding in Bangladesh, half a million people are dead, the ocean levels are rising and the American Empire fell in 2015.
But historical milieu is completely secondary to the deeply personal stories of these relationships, and the dark secret that is poked and prodded but never completely exposed. The set’s simple design, modest but effective projections and stormy sonic landscape highlight the strong, earnest performances by this skilled set of actors. Ley dexterously flips between two very different men, the English Henry Law and Australian Gabriel York, while Christopher Hunt is excellent as the charming, quietly enduring Joe Ryan. In spite of its traumas, familial and societal, this poignant production manages to end on a beautiful and convincingly hopeful note.
Until Sat, May 24 (7:30 pm; 12:30 pm matinee on Thu, May 22)
Directed by Megan Watson
Timms Centre for the Arts, $11 – $22