A gloomy, stifling storm that plunges a chunk of the Eastern United States into an ever-expanding pocket of winds and rain would be considered fiction most summers, but the dreary weather we’ve had to endure so far this season makes Strange Rain, Lynda Crawford’s play at the New York International Fringe Festival, seem a little too true to life. Sadly, that’s about all that does.
The premise beneath the play is a compelling one, at least. The big trouble with the storm in question isn’t so much its existence, but the fact that no one knows exactly where it came from or why it won’t leave. It defies all known weather patterns and logic, and appears to emanate from a collection of red clouds experts are unable to identify. Two reporters, Shirl and Jim (Kaethe Fine and Charles Goforth), are on the case, and prepared to take on the government, the military, and even the past to get to the meteorological truth.
Crawford displays no shortage of decent ideas in conveying the scope of the trouble and those with the greatest interest in it. She unlocks plenty of perspective potential in cycling through a shadowy but milquetoast malcontent named Simon (Scott Klavan) who’s sure the storm is manmade, a pair of lesbian psychics (Jennifer Tchiakpe, Julia Steele Allen) who think they can divine the clues needed to get to the next step, a homeless man named Sparrow (Malachy Silva) who poetically appraises the endless rain and everything it inspires, and even two TV weathermen (J.J. Pyle and Kelly Miller) determined to keep talking regardless of how little they know.
But serious inconsistencies on the part of both the script and Simone Federman’s production result in an evening that’s waterlogged at best. The plot’s being confusing and meandering, with barely a recognizable through line and a flimsy ending, is actually the least of the problems. More noticeable is the strong noir feel that infuses the action: It’s enhanced by Jon Pierson and Michael Andrew Hideto when they’re playing their instruments or creating other sound effects (and irreparably harmed in the ill-conceived instances in which they’re required to act), but the stakes are so low that no tension — let alone suspense — is ever generated, and the conceit feels more extraneous than it does integrated.
The weathermen seem to be on hand to both push along the plot and defuse with awful humor any drama once it threatens to spark, and I can’t even credit the psychics with contributing that much to the story. With only two exceptions, the performers mumble their lines and give predictably underpowered, and frequently off-putting, performances. Silva brings a forceful charisma and a sense of purpose to Sparrow that give him an appealing gravitas that’s not necessarily present in the writing. And Klavan holds just enough mystery in reserve to convince as the apparently agenda-driven Simon.
Unfortunately, you’re offered no good reason to care about his plight and see it through to its resolution — something that, in conjunction with everything else, makes the last few wrap-up scenes especially tedious. (The play runs only about 100 minutes, but feels considerably longer.) You might think it shouldn’t be possible given the jolting setup and the latent opportunities for addressing, critiquing, and rethinking everything from climate change to the Biblical flood that sent Noah sailing (there’s a gentle undercurrent of parent-child issues, but no more). Until it’s distilled to its most important elements, however, in terms of events, people, and even staging concepts, Strange Rain will be hard squeezed to come across as more than a theatrical downpour that hits right after you wash your car.
2013 New York International Fringe Festival