Review: The Fall by Greg Nelson

Great Canadian Theatre Company presents
The World Premiere of The Fall

Production viewed: September 14, 8 pm

Directed by
Eda Holmes

The Cast
Helen Taylor Kate/Jane
Robin Wilcock David/Harry

Set & Costume Design Brian Smith
Lighting Design Martin Conboy
Assistant Lighting design Mark Rieger
Stage Manager Kevin Waghorn
Assistant Stage Manager Erin Finn
Head Electrician Jon Alexander
Head of Audio Jon Carter
Head of wardrobe & Props Sarah Feely
Head Scenic Painter Stephanie Dahmer

The Crew
Linda Dusfresne, Shane Learmonth,
Claude Faucon, Rob Lukas,
Louise Hayden, Keith Moulton,
Derek Hilton, Dave Muir, Ken Holtz

Hisham at Beautyworx

Nelson’s script, while intense and topical — in fact, local, since the setting is a mandarin’s workroom in a government building in Ottawa — has several self-imposed limitations: the two actors each play two characters in one setting, and the action is advanced by several tricky devices, at least one of which is the female character repeatedly changing the facts of her story. The other limitation springs from the fact that the script focuses on the peeling back of onion-like layers of information; character and the relationship of the characters is a very seconday concern — because of this lack of concern for the relationship of the characters, the drama offers little emotional engagement for the audience. That said, the facts of the script are in themselves engaging — if you ignore the contradictions — in spite of the threadbare device of revising these facts every few scenes.

Almost always, set designers are very ingenious in making the spatial limitations of GCTC’s stage into an asset; Brian Smith, The Fall‘s set designer certainly made the most of the challenge: his set was very solid and institutional looking, with granite walls, tall art deco windows and terrasso floor, although the evident springiness of the plywood and its sound underfoot could have been overcome only with a much larger budget than I am sure he had. Martin Conboy and crew had the challenge of whisking us through time with lighting effects which were certainly up to the task, although I was more impressed by the illumination of the final moments of the piece as the effect was fading to black.

Wilcock’s transitions from father to son were clear and effective, partially, I think because he has so much face and overall size to work with; as well, the blocking gave him a good shot at these, placing him upstage much of the time so that he could transit in a focal spot. His characterization was engaging, although there are some contradictory implications for his character in the script — was he a victim of his father or not?

Taylor had what must have been the taxing problem of repeatedly admitting to having lied about a crucial point. I know I found that difficult to accept; I imagine she must have been at least a little reluctant to engage in the device for the umpteenth time. Listening to the device led me to speculate on Kate’s — her character’s — real reasons for inviting David to the room in the first place (she needed his help to know her subject), when her final position is that she has spent far more time in face to face contact with the subject than David did; in fact, he ends up asking for her help on a book he is deciding to write. Again, the plot circles almost miscellaneously until it makes little sense.

In spite of these script weaknesses, I think both actors served the script well, and certainly made the most of the circuitous debate.

The play is described in promotional literature by GCTC as a “political thriller”. When one considers the scandal that is implicit in the story, I suppose it is; although I think “political thriller” is one of those oxymoronic terms like military intelligence or business ethics. When you come right down to it, the subject of Kate’s proposed book was described in the script as thrilling for political nerds. I think that is the case with this play.

I have complained before about driving better than an hour each way to see plays in Ottawa, when the drive is longer than the play. At an hour and change, this “full-length version” (playwright’s expression) could use another act — if it would make us care about these characters, because as it is, I really could not attach to either of them.

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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