Saturday, February 20, 2016

Smokefall **

“The greatest act of courage is to love” or so say two characters in Noah Haidle’s absurdist family dramedy at MCC Theater. We see how four generations of a Grand Rapids family grapple with this challenge. In the first act, we meet Violet (Robin Tunney), accidentally pregnant, on the verge of giving birth to male twins any day. Her 14-year-old daughter Beauty (Taylor Richardson), whose daily diet includes bark, dirt and paint, announced three years ago that she had nothing more to say and hasn’t spoken since. Her husband Daniel (Brian Hutchinson) secretly feels overwhelmed and, as we learn from the narrator Footnote (Zachary Quinto), is about to abandon his family. The colonel (Tom Bloom), her father, has been sliding into dementia since the death of his wife. The first act ends with an attention-grabbing scene in which the two fetuses (Hutchinson and Quinto), dressed as vaudevillians, sing Sondheim, philosophize and express their fears of leaving the womb. If I had left at intermission, I would have been content. Unfortunately, the second act heads off in directions that I found unsatisfactory, jumping forward and flashing back in time and mixing characters from different time periods in the same scene. There is one particularly confusing actor doubling and another character who does not age for 75 years, all to little discernible purpose. Mimi Lien’s scenic design employs a lot of pressed wood. Asta Bennie Hostetter’s costumes are wonderful, especially the ones for the twin fetuses. When presented in Chicago, the play was such a success that the Goodman Theater moved it from its small stage to its mainstage to ecstatic reviews. Although the current production has the same director, Anne Kauffman, something seems to have been lost on the trip east. The New York cast, entirely new, seems competent so I am not sure they are to blame. I wish the play had been able to maintain the promise of its first act. Running time: one hour 40 minutes including intermission.

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