By Alec Clayton
Falling, now playing at Olympia Little Theatre (OLT), is 70 minutes of edge-of-your-seat intensity, a roller coaster of love, fear and laughter with no intermission. If there were an intermission, the audience’s total immersion into the Martin family would be weakened; if it were any longer than 70 minutes, the actors would be physically exhausted and the audience emotionally so. As it is, the time flies by at warp speed and the audience is left depleted, yet thoroughly satisfied.
Falling is not an easy play to watch, but it is a model of what modern realism is meant to be.
Playwright Deanna Jent is the mother of a child with special needs. She began the process of writing this play as an essay about raising that grown child, 25 years old in the play but 18 in the original script. At the urging of a friend, Jent rewrote the story as a theatrical production focused on her struggles with loving her hard-to-love son.
She was quoted in an article in Illinois Wesleyan University’s IWU Magazine: “I believe that parenting is a struggle and a joy for everyone. Each family has a journey, and none is more or less important. But some journeys are so different, the terrain so unusual, that it bears reporting. I write from the War Zone of Extreme Parenting.”
The play presents a brief time in the Martin family home, with mother Tami Martin (Debbie Sampson); Josh, her son with autism (Jeremy Holien); Bill, Tami’s husband (Tom Sanders); her teenage daughter Lisa (Sarah Johnson) and Bill’s mother, Grammy Sue (Sharry O’Hare). On Broadway, this quintet would win best ensemble of the year. Each cast member totally inhabits the thoughts and actions of the characters he or she portrays.
Falling is Silva Goetz’s directorial debut. She’s a mental health professional and experienced actor who performed admirably in such plays as The Tempest and Talley’s Folly. “What kills me the most is putting my dear friends (cast and crew) through this emotional wringer,” Goetz said in a program note.
Josh is volatile, alternately fun-loving and dangerous. He physically attacks family members. They’ve been trying for quite some time to find a home for him with qualified caregivers, but every facility has a long waiting list. The family’s both afraid for Josh and of him. Nevertheless, his mother and father love and care for him and worry about him though their situation puts them and the stability of their marriage at risk. Sanders and Sampson are utterly natural in their depiction of their characters’ emotional complexity. Johnson delightfully depicts the sarcasm, humor and emotional outbursts of a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood. Into this mix comes the well-meaning but clueless grandmother, who’s best characterized when, before her arrival, Bill and Tami bet on how long it’ll take her to start talking about God. Tami bets on five minutes, Bill a more generous 15.
O’Hare, a grande dame of South Sound theater, wonderfully portrays a grandmother who wants to help but is totally unprepared.
The presentational style of this show is naturalistic, but there’s one unexpected scene that’s more expressionistic, even surreal and momentarily confusing, but that makes perfect sense in retrospect.
Olympia Little Theatre requires masks and proof of vaccination.
7:25 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays,
1:55 p.m. Sundays, June 10-26
Olympia Little Theatre,
1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia