If you believe life is an absurd journey through loneliness, pain, and alienation that ultimately ends in death, cheer up! The Browns' season will be over before you know it. Also know that you're not alone, since playwright Samuel Beckett pursued those themes in many of his works, including All That Fall, now being produced by Cesear's Forum.
This was originally intended to be a radio play, and it's presented in this production as just that — with actors "reading from scripts" and gesturing to each other while staying in character vocally (like you do on a conference call). It's all a bit challenging, with some charming performances fighting against stage business that is often nonsensical.
The plot couldn't be simpler. Elderly Maddy Rooney is walking to the train station to meet her even older and blind husband, and then they walk back home. Along the way, Maddy encounters different folks and assorted animals from the town, and those interactions serve to throw Maddy into introspection about her life.
Her conclusions aren't all that pretty. As she observes, "I'm just a hysterical old hag, destroyed with sorrow and pining and gentility and churchgoing and fat and rheumatism and childlessness." While Maddy may pine for a child, her husband Dan is no friend of tots, which fuels a mystery about an event that occurred on the train, delaying its arrival.
Although Beckett's language is often crisp and funny in short patches, the overall effect in this 75-minute production is rather desultory. Instead of engaging this material in our mind, we are gazing at radio performers who have different agendas from the script. Thus, we see actors miming frustration or disgust at the engineer, or at each other, although we're never sure why.
Also, there are many sound effects produced by the actors and the engineer, true to old-time radio. But since these effects vary in verisimilitude from spot-on to weirdly inaccurate (scraping a box grater with metal to represent Maddy's shuffling steps?), one isn't sure what to make of it all. The same is true with the actors, some of whom act out their scenes physically, which radio actors wouldn't do.
As Maddy, Lee Mackey is nicely tormented at every turn. Glenn Colerider invests Dan with a raucous senior citizen sensibility, but it's not clear why he wears black glasses since he's only an actor playing a blind man. And if the actor is blind, why is he holding a script? John Kolibab works hard as the engineer, as do Brian Zoldessy, Michael Regnier, and Mary Alice Beck in supporting roles.
All That Fall is a risky challenge taken on by director Greg Cesear, but too many mixed signals make it more confusing than it needs to be.
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