It may take you some time before you grasp the intent, the relationships and where everything is going in Andrew Bovell’s play When the Rain Stops Falling offered by Quantum Theatre. In fact, time becomes the fulcrum of events in the past, present and future, since time crisscrosses over spaces in a world gradually seeming doomed to drown. But as the play courses on, unbroken into pieces, you may find yourself immersed in wanting to understand, wanting to know, wanting to work out the puzzle. It looks as if Bovell, drop by drop, wants you to become part of the flow, as if it must be related to you but you have to figure that out, even as you may need time in your own life to realize who you are and where you come from. Yes, you could conclude that this relates to you, because, ultimately, this play concerns families and how families get swept away but could come back together if everyone holds on to the best of what they have. The play can make you think, but I doubt if it will make you feel and you may have to work hard to understand.
This comes across as complex from the outset. No exposition foretells what happened in the past. And those emerging details do not appear sequentially. It looks as if Bovell felt that the story he wanted to tell and the points he wanted to make were too obvious and mundane and needed added complexities. But the fine cast, comprised of some of Pittsburgh’s best actors, makes it all compelling and believable. Meanwhile director Martin Giles has planted visual clues whose meaning may not clear up until you have been thoroughly immersed in the experience. You can appreciate them retroactively but he doesn’t give enough help. He could have had titles projected to make clear in what years and what places the scenes unfold. And, in his program notes, he could have pointed in the right direction, not added to bafflement. You may get an idea of part of what he implies if you recall Australian director Peter Weir’s compelling film The Last Wave in which native people foretell the end of the world by drowning.
So, despite some of the play being set in future time, don’t expect science-fiction.
The program book for Quantum’s production of When the Rain Stops Falling does provide clues in a genealogy chart, showing family connections among all of the characters, saying as well that this takes place between 1959 and 2039 in England and in Australia. I found it useful to have the genealogy ready to read, to be able to refer to it in the semi-darkness. You might too. Nonetheless, ultimately,I find this theatrical puzzle fascinating.
Playwright Bovell doesn’t make anything easy, not only blurring spaces between time and place but also by having four characters named Gabriel. Here are some clues. As it turns out, all of the play’s nine characters are related. The next to the last in line is Gabriel York who starts the play in the year 2039. Then you see all of his antecedents at a dining table, as you will again at the close of play. Both scenes are symbolic; these people never actually come all together at one real time and in one real place. They may be ghosts. The focus remains on two families, the Laws and the Yorks. Young Gabriel Law, trying to learn how and why his father Henry disappeared in Australia, meets and falls in love with young Australian Gabrielle York. As the plays flows on, you see Elizabeth, his mother, as an older woman and as a younger one, played by Mary Rawson and Daina Michelle Griffith. Gabrielle York is also seen as an older and younger woman, played by Bridget Connors and Robin Abramson. The older, in later life, is married to Joe Ryan, played by Philip Winters, and he becomes the 2039 Gabriel York’s stepfather. Meanwhile the characters anxiously posit the future and ponder the past.
I most admired Daniel Krell’s moving interpretation of the sorrowful, tragically flawed Henry Law whose increasingly helpless behavior outside the home estranges him from his his wife Elizabeth and their son Gabriel. Bovell has also written the father well, as he has the older version of Gabrielle York the Australian girl with whom Gabriel Law has fallen in love. And, as their 2039 grandson, John Shepard also leaves a sad, touching and sympathetic impression.
Director Martin Giles has gotten many solid performances from his cast and has done a lot visually to enhance the details of the story, including calling for projections of storms on the stark, blank walls in abandoned spaces of the Iron City Brewery, where this is staged. The setting, consistent with other Quantum Theatre choices, dovetails well with the bleakness of where the story seems to head.
Yet, bear in the mind the title, because as the play concludes, a message of hope and redemption suggests sunnier times. In that, and in many ways, Bovell tells us a lot. I just wish he and Giles could have done so clearer. But you may find, as I do, that involving your mind, your thoughts, your perceptions can make being there worth the time.
Quantum Theatre’s production of When the Rain Stops Falling continues at Iron City Brewery, 3340 Liberty Avenue through November 21st. Tickets and info at 1-888-71-TICKETS
or 1-888-718 4253 or www.quantumtheatre.org