The last play in the six-show season at U of A Studio Theatre was the MFA directing thesis project for Megan Watson, just as the first show last fall was directed by MFA candidate Nancy McAlear. When the Rain Stops Falling was written by Andrew Bovell, and first produced in Australia in 2008.
There was a program insert with a family tree. A quick study of the family tree and the cast of characters showed that it wasn’t going to be obvious who was who, with two women being portrayed by two performers each, with other performers playing more than one character, and with two characters named Gabriel (played by David Ley and by Tim Welham) and one named Gabrielle (played by both Sandra Nicholls and Bobbi Goddard). Other performers included Christopher Hunt of Calgary, Nancy McAlear, and Kathleen Weiss.
The story started with a long monologue by performer David Ley (a faculty member in the Department of Drama, like Sandra Nicholls and Kathleen Weiss. He seemed to be a solitary and self-justifying man, anxious about a reunion with his son. The time seemed to be some unspecified future and the setting seemed somewhat dystopic and somewhat magic-realist, with a fish falling from the sky and a comment that nobody gets to eat fish from the sea any more. Another clue was that the character, whose name turns out to be Gabriel York, had a subtle Australian accent.
I like plays with non-linear narrative, where I get to figure out gradually who everyone is and how they connect with each other. I also like plays where people are coping with the aftermath of something sad or awful, and we gradually find out about that without having to see it directly. This play hit both those buttons for me, as well as the one where I get to feel smart as an audience member when I figure something out for myself shortly before it’s explicitly revealed.
The story was told in many short scenes, with much repetition of dialogue and stage business. The action moved smoothly as characters for the next scene usually took their places on stage silently before the previous scene had finished, adding to the sense of overlapping and repetition. The sets/props were minimal and didn’t give much information about era or location – a long dining table moved about the stage, chairs, coat-hooks, a soup kettle and soup plates, a pile of diapers, driftwood and a big windowframe, behind which were projected various images of weather, seaside, and Uluru (Ayers Rock).
After the various disjointed scenes of abandonment and secrecy through generations, the final scene provides some satisfaction as the old man of the opening scene, David Ley as Gabriel York, gives his son Andrew (Tim Welham) a suitcase full of family mementos. Each artifact is handed around the long table by the silent witnesses of the cast, and by this point the audience knows enough to place each of them even when the characters don’t. My companion admired the complexity of the story and the closure in the storytelling.
I was particularly touched by Sandra M Nicholls’ portrayal of an aging woman aware that she is losing her memory, and impressed by the way David Ley distinguished between the two characters he played. I was also impressed by watching Bobbi Goddard’s fairly straightforward portrayal of a young woman seeking to move past her unhappy family background, since last night I saw her play Lady Macbeth in the Theatre Prospero production at the Thousand Faces festival.
When the Rain Stops Falling is playing until May 24th. Next year’s Studio Theatre season starts with Richard Greenberg’s The Violet Hour in mid-September.