The New York Musical Theatre Festival
Watching scene after scene of everyone refusing to directly ask Ben about the incident is surreally unbelievable - wouldn't most parents and doctors leave him strapped to the hospital bed until he explained something? Librettist Turner and composer-lyricist Sahin seem to have predicted this problem, as they’ve filled out the show with various fantasy collages, forays into memory, and fractured slices of life from Ben’s deceptively troubled first semester at college. There are two different scenes set on an imaginary court TV show, for example, when Ben is tried for his transgression against gravity; and Colella, Pollock, and Testa all play different figures of importance in Ben’s life. But even this gets weird: Ben partaking in a frantic makeout session with his roommate’s girlfriend, whom Colella also plays, injects into the show all sorts of queasy Freudian imagery even recessionary theatrical economics shouldn’t allow. It’s established early on that Colella will also sometimes play Ben, which is fine, but in one late scene, Predovic and Pollock swap roles for a few minutes because... Well, just because.
Tricks like these aren’t necessary when the dramatic action and songs can engage the audience by themselves, but that’s not the case here. Just as with the book, the score’s dependence on people’s not asking the same question over and over rapidly becomes wearying, and the only numbers that land are those that deal with this either indirectly or not at all. Of those, there are only two of any note: “No Big Deal,” an oddly charming turn for Pollock in which dad fathers as much as he can by fathering as little as feels he has to, persuading Ben to not even sweat the small stuff; and “Mother You” (with Turner’s lyrics), in which grandma confesses to Ben all the things she wished she’d been free to do for him, but didn’t.
That comedienne extraordinaire Testa scores with such a serious, downplayed moment should surprise none of her fans; that she triumphs in the rest of the role should surprise no one. Her brash singing, mastery of deadpan, and impeccable timing make her a hilarious centerpiece here, whether playing grandma, one of Ben’s street-talking college friends, or even his roommate’s jilted one-night stand. Colella and Pollock are convincing enough - if ridiculously youthful-looking - as mom and dad, but don’t do much with their other roles. Predovic’s singing voice is strong, but his physical gawkiness and aren’t-I-cute? way with dialogue makes him difficult to accept as the sexually alluring, hardcore friends-and-parties type Ben is supposed to be. If some performer can justify the character, who insists he wasn’t trying to kill himself and didn’t merely fall by accident, Predovic is not it.
But any actor is going to be limited by the material, which simply doesn’t give Ben enough opportunities to make his psychological case. Co-directors Lonny Price and Matt Cowart have attempted to explore Ben’s mind in their stripped-down staging, with very little effect. The overall look is that of Price’s trademark shiny minimalism, but there’s hardly any of the creativity or depth that’s infused his better efforts, such as 110 in the Shade or A Class Act. Of course, those shows offered him compelling characters and situations that this one doesn’t. There’s only so much that even the most gifted artists could bring to life in a show that revolves around a question so shallow and inherently undramatic. That means that long before Ben has jumped, All Fall Down has already jumped the shark.
All Fall Down