*published on 22 Oct 2012 in The EDGE
“Falling,” a new play by Deanna Jent, directed by Lori Adams has its off Broadway premier at the Minetta Lane Theater. Let us take a small moment to revel in the reality that a play is both written and directed by a woman and perhaps because of that we have a work that is wonderfully wrought, deeply personal, tragic and in its larger life, incredibly universal. Both the author and the director have midwestern roots and perhaps that is what accounts for the in-your-face, no nonsense approach to a family living with autism.
Daniel Everidge plays Josh, the 18-year-old, gigantic, autistic son around who swirls the pathos, pity and sometimes playfulness of this play. Everidge is inspired as Josh and he is given a turn to embody another character, one I will not reveal as it might spoil some of the plot twists.
Josh lives with his sister Lisa, a sullen teenager who espouses to hate her brother as her brother is the sole focal point in the family. Jacey Powers as Lisa gives us the needy, pouty and poignant that lurks in all teenage girls.
Her dad Bill is well wrought by Daniel Pearce and his mom, the bible tooting, thumping and limping Granny Sue is perfectly brought to the stage by Celia Howard. But the night belongs to the mom, Tami, played with grace by Julia Murney, even after her shirt is torn off by her angry hulking son.
The play highlights how parents and families adjust to the strange ways of their children, especially those plighted with maladies such as autism. There are rituals and code words, there are simple pleasures lost: dinners are constantly interrupted; sex lives atrophy and phone calls jangle nerves.
Being a parent and a mother is often a thankless task, but “Falling” shows in unflinching detail the toil it takes on families who can not find proper, safe care for a child whose enormous body shouts ADULT, but whose countenance whispers infant.
The set by John C. Stark helps announce the child in Josh; it is a simple living room littered with toys and kid movies. But as the play unfolds we see the masturbating man in grown-up Josh who alternates between his beloved feather box as a comfort item, and his obsessive twisting of his nipples or diving a massive paw into his sweat pants. How is a family to deal with all of this? How is an audience?
Well, the audience has to endure the plight and sadness for an uncut 75 minutes. And of course the tight core of an ensemble cast and the great pace of the dialogue and the directing mitigate the despair evinced. There was a standing ovation and great chatter after the play and many tears.
As I unlocked my bike, a vintage Raleigh I have ridden for decades, I was complimented on my ride by a woman with a distinct drawl and we began to talk about the play in the mild fall evening. She attended as her best friend has an autistic child and whose husband had left her as the living situation was too intense.
In the play we see the husband’s resolve wavering as to whether he can withstand this unending onslaught, but although the mother laments, “Who will catch me?” we do not doubt that she will stay — until she too falls.
A good play asks us to be present to the dramatic arc of the characters, but in the falling light it also asks us, in conversation with a stranger, to explore what it means to be a mother. “Falling” certainly does that.
“Falling” enjoys an extended run at the Minetta Lane Theater, 18-22 Minetta Lane. For info or tickets, call 212-420-8214 or visit http://www.ticketmaster.com/Minetta-Lane-Theatre-tickets-New-York/venue/24586