Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Sharon's recent review of Fools
The concept of Ray Bradbury's Falling Upward! or To Eire is Human, To Forbid Divine is surprisingly simple -- a bunch of guys sitting around a bar talking. In this case, the bar is a pub in 1950s Ireland, and the guys who are doing the talking are practiced in the art of storytelling, having been drinking and swapping tales nightly for as long as anyone can remember.
We are not simply unconnected observers. One of the men, Garrity, frequently addresses the audience directly, involving us by attempting to predict and answer our thoughts. He keeps telling us we're in a place "where anything can happen, and it always does." But it doesn't really. The charm of Falling Upward! is that it makes something out of nothing. When the local priest, Father Leary, surreptitiously drops in for a drink (as, we're certain, he does regularly), he engages the publican in a spirited discussion over whether his order should properly be termed "the same" or "the usual." It's much ado about nothing, but the ado is what life is all about.
In post-Seinfeld America, the idea of a play about nothing is not revolutionary. But Ray Bradbury wrote Falling Upward! in 1988, and it appears as though he didn't trust his audiences to accept such a play, so he hedged his bets by incorporating some plot. Partway through the show, the village is visited by five men who clearly do not belong. Nattily dressed and effeminate in mannerisms, these men could not be more out of place at a working-class pub in County Kildare, and they receive nothing but unwelcoming stares when they first enter. Much of Falling Upward! is devoted to the culture shock experienced by the locals when this visit occurs, and their ultimate discovery of the common ground they share with their unlikely guests.
It is unfortunate that Bradbury felt it necessary to take the script in this direction. The play is much more fun when it isn't trying to convey a moral of acceptance. Falling Upward! is at its best when its characters are simply telling stories, or experiencing the incidents that will be the makings of the great stories of tomorrow. When our heroes get the last laugh over a dead Lord who tried to pull one over on them in his will, it's a delightful moment. But it is made all the more special because we know that, someday, each man who was there will be sitting with a stranger, and he'll lean in closer over his pint, and tell him all about "the time when." If Falling Upward! had trusted the strength of its storytelling more, the play would have successfully immersed its audience in the warm, friendly atmosphere of Heeber Finn's pub for ninety minutes. Instead, the storytelling takes a back seat to an artificial plot which is unable to really drive the show, and we must settle for a few good moments in what could have been a charming little play.
Ray Bradbury's Pandemonium Theatre Company presents Ray Bradbury's Falling Upward or To Eire is Human, to Forbid Divine, an Irish Comedy. Directed by Charles Rome Smith; Executive Producer John Philip Dayton; Produced by Ray Bradbury and Thomas Petitpas; Co-Producer Mindy Brandt. Lighting Design by Peter Strauss; Set Design by J.M. Altadonna; Costume Design by Charles Rome Smith; Sound Design by Dan O'Connell and Suzzy London; Assistant Director Suzzy London; Stage Manager Shelley Stevens.
Falling Upward! plays at the Falcom Theatre in Burbank through December 30. For tickets, call (818) 955-8101, or click their website at www.falcontheatre.com