Oak Park Oak Leaves Oak Park’s Circle Theatre stages intriguing family saga
By Tom Witom
Closely guarded family secrets — and efforts to unlock them— figure prominently in “When the Rain Stops Falling,” Andrew Bovell’s fascinating jigsaw-puzzle-of-a-play at Circle Theatre. Frequent shifts in time and location — the action takes place on two continents and spans an 80-year period from 1959 to 2039 — keep viewers on their toes during the production. It’s staged without intermission and whizzes by in about 1 3/4 hours.
A feeling of disorientation hits home early on, when a large fish long thought extinct mysteriously drops from the sky during a fierce downpour — a surreal occurrence in a town surrounded by desert. Fish soup gets served in several succeeding scenes, and serious topics of conversation often give way to safer, more mundane subjects like the weather.
Initially, audiences don’t have a clue where the story is headed. But patience is rewarded. Bovell’s tightly scripted drama, smartly directed by John Gawlik, takes its time, showing how forward motion reveals ways in which the past shapes the future.
Broken marriages, missing children, suicide and a fatal accident emerge as part of the complicated storyline that follows two families over several generations. Occasionally, characters morph into younger versions of themselves.
Twenty-eight-year-old Gabriel Law longs to know why Henry, his father, abruptly abandoned him as a child, but Elizabeth, his bitter alcoholic mother, refuses to discuss the subject. Undeterred, he leaves London seeking answers in Australia, where his father had relocated.
Once there Gabriel meets and falls in love with Gabrielle York, a kindred spirit of sorts with a tragic history involving a cherished brother went missing as a boy and the subsequent suicides of her devastated parents.
To disclose much more would be counterproductive and call for a spoiler alert.
Luke Daigle brings palpable intensity to the role of Gabriel, the son determined to learn who he was and where he came from. Mary Redmon and Katherine Keberlein stand out, respectively, as older and younger versions of Gabriel’s tight-lipped mother.
Others in Gawlik’s finely tuned cast include Catherine Price-Griffin and Anita Hoffman as Gabrielle; Luke Renn as Henry; Ron Quade as Gabriel York; Noah Sullivan as Joe Ryan; and Nicholas Roy Caesar as Andrew Price.
Confused about the genealogy? A“family tree” in the playbill offers some help in sorting out who’s who in the story. Uncovering what’s what, however, will require a full viewing of — and full attent to — this arresting drama.
WINDY CITY TIMES
BY JONATHAN ABARBANEL
Kudos to Circle Theatre for presenting a new (2008) Australian play, a bastion of English-speaking theater all but ignored by Chicago (and American) directors. This award-winning play by Andrew Bovell also is a highly literate piece of work, the type of play I'd expect to see at Writers' Theatre, City Lit or Eclipse Theatre. Although facing financial challenges, Circle Theatre has eschewed the appeal of a popular musical or comedy and stepped up to the plate of art with an unknown and risky work, although one that is more than worthy.
When the Rain Stops Falling offers domestic snapshots of four generations of an English family and an Australian family, 1960s through 2039, a mystical year in which fish have disappeared from Australia. With scenes set in London and various Oz locales, the play relates how the unmarried relationship of Gabriel Law and Gabrielle York (both of the second generation) produces the next two generations, and sharply hints that the two families may have unknowingly connected years earlier under dark and terrible circumstances.
The language of the play is poetic, image-rich and often elegiac in tone but it doesn't make the work easy to understand. When the Rain Stops Falling jumps back and forth in time, and presents younger and older versions of its two women, all of which make it something of a jigsaw puzzle. Bovell's use of repetitive phrases and actions—something of a cyclical structure—feed into the puzzle. You need to pay some attention as the lovely language flows, and in time the relationships will become clear, maybe too clear for comfort.
The themes, too, will become clear, and they are fundamental Judeo-Christian ideas: Is life random or pre-ordained? Are the sins of the fathers visited upon the sons? What are our personal responsibilities? The play's women become hard and bitter in their losses, and their husbands and sons do not always understand why or, sadly, do understand.
OK, yes, this is a serious play about serious things but it's far from an overbearing tragedy or a beat-you-on-the-head message play. It definitely could use some comedy (it has very little) and probably could be 12 minutes shorter if several monologues were edited just a bit. Nonetheless, there is beauty in its unfolding and great ability in the production. Director John Gawlik has coaxed lovely and poignant performances, across a wide emotional range, from all nine members of his ensemble. Even at a final preview, they didn't sound a single false note. And the projection-based design concept by Bob Knuth (set) and Kevin Bellie (projections) is visual poetry perfectly pitched to the play, with vast landscapes and smoky cityscapes. See this one, a touch of real beauty at Circle Theatre.
Time Out Chicago (4 of 5 stars)
Gathered around a large wooden table, three generations of one family sip fish soup at the start of Andrew Bovell’s 2008 play. The time-jumping story and single-table setting recall Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal, but Bovell puts a post-apocalyptic spin on the ancestral family drama. The deterioration of the Law bloodline over 80 years mirrors the environment’s decline; the play begins and ends in the year 2039, when it’s always raining and fish have become extinct.
From a depressed housewife in 1959 London to her depressed single-father grandson in 2039 Australia, the script juggles multiple stories and timelines. Motifs of fish soup, freshly painted walls, lost hats and people drowning in Bangladesh link the various threads together, but Bovell stretches the “everything is connected” theme to its limit. As the coincidences become more frequent, they start to diminish the impact of the situations.
The story focuses on the two women in Gabriel Law’s (Luke Daigle) life, depicting his mother, Elizabeth (Katherine Keberlein and Mary Redmon), and his lover Gabrielle (Catherine Price-Griffin and Anita Hoffman) at different ages. All four women are exceptional, and Keberlein reaches the emotional high point of the production with her devastating breakdown late in the play. There’s a sense of comfort and familiarity among the cast even though most of the characters never interact with each other. When they sit together at the table, their relationships transcend time and space, and they become a family united.
Chicago Reader (Recommended)
Andrew Bovell's 2008 family drama spans two continents, four generations, and about 80 years, from the 1950s to 2039. Jumping back and forth in time, it teasingly reveals the secrets, sins, failed romances, and fraught parent-child relationships that connect the tight-lipped Law family of London with the flinty Yorks of Australia. Bovell's jigsaw approach creates the sense that past, present, and future are alive in each moment. Images and phrases recur, taking on new shades of meaning with each repetition, as in a villanelle. Inasmuch as Circle Theatre usually sticks to crowd-pleasing musicals and comedies, John Gawlik's sensitive and layered staging comes as a welcome surprise. Likewise, the cast turn in performances distinguished by their depth and quiet honesty. —Zac Thompson
Multi-generational Dystopia Unfolds At Circle
As the home of stylish comedies of manners and exuberant musicals, Circle Theatre isn't usually where you'd look for new and deeply reflective drama. But they've taken it on here in the form of Andrew Bovell’s poetic account of family dystopia, and it is a beauty–as Jonathan commented, the kind of work you'd expect to see at Steppenwolf. Set in London and the Australian outback over a period of 80 years, the play investigates both how family injury repeats itself generation after generation and how damage to the earth gradually becomes irreparable. Directed with great tenderness and clarity by John Gawlik, this is a contemporary play to see and then think about all the way home. -KK
Circle Premieres Dark Drama From Down Under
By MELISSA WASSERMAN
“It’s about a family crisis, it’s about communicating between husbands and wives or sons and in that as its basis, is completely universal,” said John Gawlik, director of “When the Rain Stops Falling,” having its Chicago premiere at Circle Theatre in Oak Park.
Written by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell, it’s a mysterious, rather dark family drama that unravels through time and space, jumping backwards and forwards as it spans years from 1959 to 2039, from London to Australia tracking four generations of one family where devastating acts of the past continue to impact each new generation. The drama was named Time Magazine’s Best New Play of 2010.
“The structure is so wonderful and precise and at the same time I think it’s challenging,” said Gawlik, a Chicago resident, who also serves as artistic director of Fox Valley Repertory.
“It’s challenging for us as the cast working together on it and I think it’s going to be a wonderful challenge for the audience with it as well,” he said. “Coming to it is going to be something they haven’t seen before. Not just the piece, but how it kind of opens up.”
Describing it as “something very dark but also beautifully moving,” Gawlik explains that the show rolls out like a mystery. The audience will be required to think carefully, and eventually they will understand how all the scenes fit together. “It’ll be very interesting to see what the audience takes away from it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be great to see when people start clicking in and seeing the connection between the different eras come together.”
Because “Rain” is a new work to the Chicago area, Gawlik is directing with no preconceptions of how the play should work, which he feels is a wonderful, creative experience.
Among the nine-person cast, Grayslake’s Anita Hoffman will appear in her 10th performance with Circle Theatre, playing the role of the older version of Gabrielle York, a woman who has faced a tough life of loved ones lost and other hardships. Throughout the play, she works through some of the pain.
Hoffman, usually in musicals, says her goal is to make the dark character on stage as real as possible for the audience. “It’s just a real journey into darker places that you don’t always go to,” she said. “I do a lot of musicals and those are usually light, fluffy emotions that run through them. This thing has really pushed a lot of the dark side that you don’t usually use. So this has been interesting.”
Ripples of interest
The beauty of the show, Hoffman adds, is the way it unfolds as the “ripples in the pool are revealed.”
Mary Redmon plays the older version of Elizabeth Law, an unexpressive woman with good intentions, but who instead, ultimately hurts her family as well as herself.
Redmon describes the role as difficult, saying her character differs from herself. Not spoiling the ending while acting the part is also a challenge she explains she faces.
“I think the play is very unique in terms of the way it is written and the way it’s presented,” said Redmon, a resident of Willow Springs. “The sins of the father are visited on every generation and every generation and every generation until finally it’s put right. I really think it’s going to knock people back on their feet once they realize what the story is and kind of go with the flow and start to figure it out.”