Roly-poly Fishheads at City Garage

Image Courtesy City Garage

City Garage has taken an unusual step with ‘When the Rain Stops Falling,’ Andrew Bovell‘s time-hopping tragedy-cum-mystery playing at Bergamot Station until 23 November 2014.

London – late 1950s. Henry and Beth Law are expecting their first child. It is unreasonably rainy even for that city and there are hints that Henry has a problem. He eventually abandons his family, leaving his son Gabriel to wonder about his father in due course of time. In Australia, the Yorks of the Coorong lose a young son to the ocean and the parents never recover from the loss. Bovell progressively links these two seemingly unrelated families over three generations and eighty years. It’s an often engrossing mystery kicked off by the adult Gabriel pulling enough from his tight-lipped and frail mother to realize that any answers he may find will come from another continent.

It’s not a simple progression. The play starts in 2039 with an unpromising monologue but slowly improves – each scene shifting back or forward several decades as young Laws and Yorks anticipate and their older versions recapitulate. Bovell adds clues and throws fakes skillfully, ratcheting the tension and unease requiring the audience to assemble a timeline and genealogy from vignettes. He doesn’t tip his hand until he wants everything to coalesce. The audience will be pleased with itself for ‘getting it’ and ‘it’ is genuinely horrifying.

This work is a odd choice for the boundary-pushing City Garage. The language is structured, intentionally repetitive, and occasionally poetic but not heightened at the level of ‘Caged,’ ‘Bald Soprano,’ or ‘Opheliamachine.’ There is a nice puzzle to be solved but there isn’t much abstraction or ambiguity. There isn’t a political message apart from a nod to overfished oceans, the collapse of American hegemony, and climate upheaval. This is the kind of well-made wonder-bread sandwich normally associated with PRT or the CTG.

Perhaps Bovell’s ambitions struck a chord. There is symbolism aplenty – fish, fish-heads, and fish soup figure prominently across all timeframes. There is a heavy rain that destroys without cleansing. Exiled characters at war with their families wander in foreign lands with sands as red as blood. They try in vain to purify themselves, madness is everywhere. The women are prescient to the point of prophesy and yet no one can escape fate. Bovell’s aiming well past the kitchen sink and at the Greeks. Audiences will assuredly be split on whether he succeeds. The cast is up to the script with Courtney Clonch and Ann Bronston standing out as the young and old Beth Law and Scarlett Bermingham as Gabrielle York. A high point of the evening is Clonch’s methodical, brutal cross-examination of husband Henry (George Villas) leading to the departure that ultimately sends Gabriel on his own disastrous quest.

There’s also a nagging question of why ‘Rain’ is a play, at all. It is a fine literary work and would be terrific on the radio. City Garage is also known for movement and stagecraft, most of which seems superfluous here. Anthony Sanazzaro’s video projections of rain, ocean, and sky are nice (does the Southern sky really look like that?) but Charles Duncombe’s sound design is sufficient to frame the events. Director Frederique Michel has her actors move themselves, furniture, and eat pretend fish soup wordlessly for stretches to no clear purpose. Ostensibly a 90-minute one-act, opening night stretched to two-and-a-quarter hours with a chunk of the overrun due to the moving blackouts. The recent Bulgakov/Moliere had similar timing problems. City Garage has certainly earned the right to do a straight-up play with a beginning, middle, and end (although not necessarily in that order). It is unclear what, if anything can be legally trimmed from the script but perhaps the Garage could use a new stopwatch.

City Garage
Bergamot Station Arts Center
Building T1
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Purchase tickets online at Brown Paper Tickets or call the Box Office at 310-453-9939 to reserve seats.

Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm
Sundays 5:00pm
Admission: $25
Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20
Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can”
(at the door only)


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