Regional Theater Review: SMOKEFALL (South Coast Repertory in Coast Mesa)

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by Tony Frankel on April 12, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


The most amazing thing about Noah Haidle’s world premiere of Smokefall at South Coast Rep is Marsha Ginsberg’s scenic design of a simple yet beautifully crafted two-story family home in Grand Rapids, Michigan; a light wood finish and the dainty pastels of mid-century furniture offer a comfort and void at the same time. As opposed to seeing family photos of memories past in this humble abode, there is a Ashley Evenson’s Stage and Cinema review of “Smokefall” at South Coast Repertory.quaint plainness in the props and furniture dressings. Even as the ninety-minute play – enjoyable but not satisfying – began to fall apart, the technical team left me awestruck (Lindsay Jones’ convincing sound had me double-checking for a real baby onstage). In fact, I gazed at the set instead of the play for the final twenty-five minutes of this production.

Smokefall is the story of three generations of a modern family under one roof, sharing the moments that make each one of them uniquely who they are. The characters introduced in Act I – titled “What Hours They Forgot” – are endearing and similar in feel to Wilder’s Our Town. The Narrator is named Footnote; Leo Marks is consistently engaging, striking, and charismatic from the start, bringing humor to a role designed to reveal “footnotes” about each character – past, present, and future. At curtain, Beauty, the mute daughter who suddenly stopped speaking three years earlier, sits quietly upstairs; as portrayed by Carmela Corbett, the character says more in silence than when Beauty finally does speak in the third act.

Ashley Evenson’s Stage and Cinema review of “Smokefall” at South Coast Repertory.As Beauty’s mother Violet, a housewife who is pregnant with twins, Heidi Dippold offers a genuine kindness and upbeat presence filled with a mother’s love. Corey Brill plays Daniel, Violet’s husband and Beauty’s father. Footnote says that Daniel, like most truly unhappy people, can be the most charismatic person in any room. However, Brill does not convey the true “hollowed” depth of a man struggling with parenthood and the many issues life has to offer. Lastly is the memory-faltering grandfather, Colonel, played with truthfulness by the charming and captivating Orson Bean, who manages to be, as described in the script, heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. An old dog named Max stays by his side.

Act II (“Where We’ll Never Grow Old”) takes place in Violet’s womb; the only characters are Fetus One (Mr. Brill) and Fetus Two (Mr. Marks), who speak of life in the womb and their new world ahead (one fetus is “just a little worried about Ashley Evenson’s Stage and Cinema review of “Smokefall” at South Coast Repertory.original sin,” for example). Now, Brill’s superficial performance as Daniel vanishes, and his rapport with Marks is hilarious, touching, and rich with poignancy.

Director Anne Kaufmann guides her cast well into many emotionally affecting moments, but any sweetness or depth of performance cannot save the humorless Act III, which slows to a crawl. Why? There is no story, just a meditation on the life of these archetype characters, which leaves the actors dangling to bring meaning to what can be called poetical flashbacks. Haidle may have created intriguing characters, but he neglected to develop an arc (a commonplace occurrence in modern playwriting). Theater isn’t a Hallmark card. Hopefully, the script can be fixed prior to Smokefall’s move to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

Ashley Evenson’s Stage and Cinema review of “Smokefall” at South Coast Repertory.

photos by Henry DiRocco/SCR

South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa
scheduled to end on April 28, 2013
for tickets, call (714) 708-5555 or visit

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen April 12, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I completely agree with this review. I loved act 1, laughed until my sides hurt in act 2, and was completely lost in act 3. The only thing that made act 3 watchable was Orson Bean’s comedic timing and Leo Marks trying to rope it all together for us (and promising apple pie and cider). Overall, the awkwardness of act 3 nearly overrides the appeal of act 1 and 2.


Jan April 14, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Saw Smokefall at this afternoon’s (Sunday) matinee. The narrator, Footnote, evoked the late Rod Serling, with tilted head and clipped diction. I’ve always loved Orson Bean. He was charming, in character, and the revival of his wonderful newspaper trick from Blue Angel niteclub act was great fun. Bean was truly touching.

Couldn’t quite get my head (or heart) around the Father, who so carefully telegraphed his getaway. Was there someone waiting for him at his planned stops? He didn’t express the angst of someone so burdened with family and more children arriving to explain his departure (the actor did redeem himself as the tragic twin). Staging and sound were very interesting.

Now, about the silent daughter whose breakfast is a glass of robin’s egg blue paste and a bucket of earth..?


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