Aired on KSDS-FM on 9/14/18
RUN DATES: 8/23/18 – 9/16/18
VENUE: Backyard Renaissance in residence at the La Jolla Playhouse
It isn’t easy to make sense of the vagaries of life. And it may be impossible to “outrun your lineage.”
This is the bottom line of Noah Haidle’s often enigmatic 2013 play, “Smokefall,” the first production of Backyard Renaissance Theatre’s residence at the La Jolla Playhouse.
In between the multiple meta-narrative Footnotes and the in utero twin straw-hat vaudeville act, we are told that “the greatest act of courage is love,” but also “every love story is a tragedy.” We must never forget that “nothing lasts forever. It isn’t supposed to.”
Perhaps that’s the takeaway, but the quirky packaging is sometimes repetitive, and certainly real/surreal and tragi-comic.
“Smokefall” literally is the time just before dark. In one Grand Rapids, Michigan dysfunctional family, followed over a time-hopping four generations, we’re informed that “tragedy lurks around every corner.”
Everyone is in an existential crisis, which manifests in various ways. Father after depressed, dissatisfied father leaves wife and offspring behind. A grandfather loses his mind after he loses his wife. A daughter stops speaking, and starts eating dirt, paint and rocks. A pair of fetuses debate DNA, free will and original sin, with references to Michel Foucault and a song by Stephen Sondheim. One twin wants to take the risk and be born; the other doesn’t.
Only the matriarch stays the course, finding her peace in loving without question or apprehension. All the others cannot sleep or settle. At the end, there’s hope that the cycle may be broken. Or maybe not.
A lot is going on in this play, and there’s a lot to unpack, including puzzling out who’s playing whom in the second act, when actors shift roles and generations.
Haidle overdoes it a bitwith the philosophical disquisitions. But under the expert direction of Andrew Oswald and Backyard Renaissance artistic director Francis Gercke, the outstanding production finds a groundedness in creating this most unstable of families.
The characters aren’t deeply etched, but they’re earnestly played, and every ounce of humor is wrung out, in deliciously deadpan style.
With all its loopiness and overreliance on theological/metaphysical musings, there’s something compelling here – in addition to the marvelous cast: the dark, nagging sense that maybe we can’t escape our legacy and destiny after all.
©2018 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews