Los Angeles Theater Review: FALLING (Rogue Machine)

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by Tony Frankel on November 9, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

ROGUE MACHINE’S PRODUCTION
KEEPS SCRIPT FROM FALLING

In Deanna Jent’s Falling, a mom is reaching burnout: Her 18-year-old autistic son is consuming her time, her marriage is shaky, her mother-in-law is visiting, and she has a resentful daughter. With so much tension in the house, all it takes is an unseen barking dog to heighten her son’s condition, and when he blindly attacks his mother, it is some of the most harrowing, visceral theater you will ever witness. This is largely due to director Elina de Santos’s crackerjack casting. Ana Khaja triumphantly embodies a mother whose world-weary tension arises from conflicting emotions: She loves her son, but she’s running out of steam taking care of him. As the son, Matt Little combines childlike innocence and physicality of the neurological disorder so credibly that we are unaware of watching an actor.

Matthew Elkins, Matt Little, and Anna Khaja in Rogue Machine Theatre’s production of “Falling.”

Yet while far superior to Fountain Theatre’s On the Spectrum, Falling still remains perilously close to being an “issue play,” meaning we learn much more about the disease and the phenomenon than we do about the characters: Dad (Matthew Elkins) is presently taking a day off work, but we’re not even sure what he does or how his son’s condition effects his life outside of the home; his Bible-quoting mom (an utterly convincing Karen Landry) brings the issue of God’s Will into the scene, but there is precious little backstory; and other than a desire to move in with Grandma, the daughter has no immediate conflict. This 81-minute play, the problems of which would glare without this cast, centers on the mom, but it could have been fleshed-out had it been about a couple trying to save their relationship with their “normal” daughter, the one whose life is summarily dismissed because her brother’s condition is a full-time job for the parents (Tara Windley believably portrays the “whatever”-spouting daughter).

Matt Little in Rogue Machine Theatre’s production of “Falling.”

Because the production contains so many palpably gripping and intense moments, the missing backstory and other scriptural problems can be forgiven, making this affair worth your attendance. Jent, writing from personal experience, will no doubt instigate viewers to research autism, and her play offers a remarkable snapshot of the minutiae involved with caring for such a difficult boy. Still, Jent also adds an eleventh-hour playwriting device which unfortunately cannot be divulged here, but suffice it to say that this trick is jarring enough to take us out of the play: The scenario becomes positively weird and the characters’ behavior wholly implausible.

Matt Little, Anna Khaja, and Karen Landry in Rogue Machine Theatre’s production of “Falling.”

De Santos keeps the momentum going, but she dropped the ball in other ways: I saw no history between the family members whatsoever; the son’s rear end is abnormally large and it was impossible to discern if it was the actor himself or if he was wearing gigantic diapers; a romantic moment between husband and wife feels forced; Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s beautifully realized set of a modest family home is puzzlingly topped with plastic sheets through which we see shadows of abstracted trees; and some of the actors’ reactions seem predestined more than organic.

Anna Khaja and Karen Landry in Rogue Machine Theatre’s production of “Falling.”

Had this been a workshop presentation, I would have left the theater far more excited about the project’s potential. But the play has gone from Mustard Seed Theatre (where Jent is the Artistic Director) in St. Louis to Minetta Lane Off-Broadway to Rogue Machine here in L.A; as such, a play which needs serious tinkering is frozen, and whatever production company takes it on will be as plagued by the script’s troubles as much as a mother who is overwhelmed by caring for an autistic son.

photos by John Perrin Flynn

Falling
Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd.
ends on December 1, 2013
for tickets, call 855-585-5185 or at Rogue Machine

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