Francine Deschepper and Conor Green (who appeared in the
opening night cast) in a scene from When It Rains
(Photo credit: Nick Rudnicki)
New York City hankers among its four hundred or more different annual theater presentations, uptown, downtown, all around the town from a constant hunger for something new in writing, acting, directing, designing, preferably all at once to blow your mind, epater the senses, eblouissant tout. Even if it takes a couple of languages at once sometimes, as in the current American debut of When it Rains. Fresh from Halifax, Nova Scotia, where French and English are interchangeably in conflict, thus adding to the confusions of the play’s slim suggestion of a story line asking huge profundities in all but sophomoric terms, we are invited to wonder about the fates of Alan (Anthony Black), his wife Sybil (Francine Deschepper), his sister Anna (Samantha Wilson) and her husband Louis (Marc Bendavid).
And how do we meet them? In spotlight headshots flat against their neutral backdrop, their names over their heads, once they have ascertained they are in their correct locations. We are already in the toils of Nick Bottomley’s endlessly clever lighting and projections designs and never once leave. Which is a good thing. Because playwright Anthony Black – he plays Alan – is also director Anthony Black, and director Black has chosen to enact his play with his players almost entirely in fragmentary scenes as if they were in a slide show combined with a serial presentation of a graphic novel. Mostly black and white. Few props. Few colors. That limits their story telling to strictly linear dimensions and somewhat bereft of a gamut of emotional shadings. When Anna throws Louis out of the house for having an affair, he, of course, vociferously though quietly denies, it’s Anna’s shrieking that supplies a bump in the vocal dynamics. When Louis, in protest, takes to living in the streets, quitting his rather well paid job, his emotional dynamic reaches its peak by him standing in electronic rain singing “Ne Me Quittez Pas” as Bottomley projects a comforting translation alongside for the French deprived among us. He does not sing well. His attempt is futile.
Meanwhile, Alan and Sybil have their travails. Sybil loses her baby. Their baby. The loss of a child is shattering, or should be, but not in a graphic novel cum slide show. Whereupon Alan loses Sybil. Instead of it being one of playwright/actor Black’s finest moments, it turns out to be one of Bottomley’s finest moments. And all this less than three feet from the neutral panel which is their homes, their interiors, exteriors, kitchens, bedrooms, coffee mugs, wine bottles, all Bottomley work. They become part of his scenery. Which is, in its way, undoubtedly novel. But what about the exploration of the meanings these events indicate? Why their sufferings? They don’t invoke a god or gods, or devils or demons, for that matter. They just exist. Playwright Black has not investigated the biblical dimensions of their sufferings. As they delicately put it, bad things happen. Even if they were to put it indelicately, which we might well be wont to do, that does not add to our learning, comfort or wisdom. Or theirs. But they don’t. This from a company which in their 13th season are still children in their development, though they’ve have traveled the globe, garnered awards. And learned – what? They’re obviously capable of more. Well, Nick Bottomley knows how to make them watchable. It is a considerable achievement.
When it Rains (through January 20)
Ellen Stewart Theatre at La Mama E.T.C., 66 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-475-7710 or visit http://www.lamama.org