Friday, October 16, 2009

WLS Review: "All Fall Down"

A healthy 19-year-old boy named Ben jumps out of 6th floor window during his freshman year of college. Hardly the makings of your traditional feel-good musical - "Mary Poppins" this is not. Yet "good" is just one of the many emotions you will experience by the time you are finished watching "All Fall Down," a fascinating and compelling new musical written by Greg Turner, the producer and writer of the web soap EMPIRE, that is part of this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival.

Why did Ben Little jump? Was he high on drugs? In love? Flunking out? The reason he actually did it matters less than the issues that are provoked in his family by his shocking behavior. His dramatic gesture shatters the safe emotional cocoon preserved and maintained by his parents, Sara and Neil, and reluctantly complied with by his outspoken grandmother, Evelyn. It forces several questions to the forefront such as: what does it means to express love and concern for a family member? How do members of different generations communicate emotions? What assumptions do we make about others when they don't ask us the questions we want to be asked? And how does one break through a suffocating oppressive family status quo?

The majority of the action takes place in the Little home. Neil and Sara are proudly ushering their golden child Ben off to college and beginning to move on with their own lives. Their horror of learning of his plummet is matched only by each family member's need to repress what they are thinking, and stifle any hint of genuine emotion. It is not a coincidence that the phrase "no big deal" is spoken or sung a dozen times, for any open acknowledgment of Ben's crisis threatens the very fabric of the family's emotional safety.

All of this delightful dysfunction is set against the back drop of a clever new musical score by Selda Sehin. The very able cast manages to portray a tricky balance between expressing loving non-verbal connection and painful alienation from one another. Two-time Tony nominee Mary Testa amuses and amazes as the outspoken court-TV addicted grandmother who is the first member to stand up and take action against the oppressive muting of communication. Although Testa may not be at the point where she can convincingly pull off the quintessential grandmother role, she more than makes up for her lack of age believability in gusto, spirit, humor, and the ability to spiritually ground each flailing family member.

Okay, here's The S.A.S.S. [Short Attention Soap Summary]

WHAT: Upcoming showings of "All Fall Down" - October 17th (at 1pm) and 18th (at 4:30pm) at "The Tank" at 354 W. 45th street (between 8th & 9th ave), New York City.

WHY SOAP FANS WILL LOVE IT: Complex family drama that involves mystery, tension and intergenerational relationships? Nah, never mind, soap fans just want mobsters and James Franco, right?

BOTTOM LINE: If you like original family conflict with no clear cut "heroes" or "villains," then this is the show for you. If you enjoyed the movie Ordinary People, then this will definitely strike your fancy.

VERDICT: Well worth the $20 price of admission. See it NOW before it costs you $100 on Broadway!

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