“When the Rain Stops Falling” Show Review
“Some people believe it’s the end of the world. That’s why I wanted to see you.”
This weekend, The Quantum Theatre premiered its latest play, When the Rain Stops Falling, by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell, which is not to say that the play premiered at The Quantum Theatre. The play is being performed in Lawrenceville, at the former site of the Iron City Brewery. Those familiar with Quantum’s reputation will not find this especially unusual, just as the latest installment in Quantum’s long history of staging productions in unconventional venues.
“People are drowning in East Pakistan, so we can’t complain.”
This production is the first phase of Quantum’s Neighborhood Initiative, a sort of traveling medicine show which will be winding its way through what they have termed the “Quantum Corridor”–a series of alternate venues surrounding Penn Avenue where Quantum will stage productions over the next eighteen months. Their intention is to help stimulate interest in other local businesses besides their own. As they say themselves:
This extended occupation will allow the company to reach out to residents, businesses, and community organizations with special deals and partnerships that maximize Quantum’s impact on the neighborhood and expand the economic impact each show has on its temporary home.
“People are drowning in Bangladesh, so we can’t complain.”
All I can say about this particular choice of venue is that it forms an integral part of the overall aesthetic of the performance. When the Rain Stops Falling is a play with a lot of different themes and metaphors running around in it, but one of them is, undeniably…rain. Before the actors take the stage for the first scene, for example, we hear the sounds of rain and thunder, with accompanying appropriate lighting effects. It’s just a no-nonsense, industrial, steel roof up above the action, originally constructed for no other purpose than the sheltering of brewery vats; I heard that they had to cancel one rehearsal because of heavy …rain…outside hitting the roof and drowning everything out. (Yes, there is such a thing as an indoor rainout.)
“Instead of a loaf of bread, you have stolen the future.”
The performance space has a cavernous feel about it, accentuated by both the high, bleacher-style seating and the aforementioned towering steel roofs. The set seems more isolated from such a perspective; consequently, the players seem that much smaller and more vulnerable.
“I got you in a moment of weakness. You needed someone and I made sure it was me.”
And one other piece of scenery that dominates the set, even before the lights go down, and indeed, is the focal point of much of the onstage action, is the dinner table. It took me a moment to discern what was bothering me so much about that table. Then I realized that it isn’t your regulation rectangular Father Knows Best deal—it’s actually a trapezoid (Come on—high school geometry wasn’t that long ago!), with the larger end facing out into the audience. One could look at this from a practical point of view and say that it makes sense for the bigger end out open out into the stage; for this particular audience member, however, it worked because it added an extra touch of surreality and paradigm subversion.
“Having nothing to say is another way of having so much to say you don’t know where to begin.”
I don’t want to give the story away, but it won’t hurt to talk about the very first scene, which introduces the entire cast, in a way. Nine raincoat-wearing people, all carrying umbrellas, enter from stage left and right and proceed to move around like automatons in panic mode, as if the medium suddenly transmogrified from stage to screen just so that the projector could kick into high-speed mode. It’s the first of many unsettling moments, which is not to say that it doesn’t succeed. It works because it erases any preconceptions the audience may have about what may happen next, while leaving the audience not knowing what to expect.
“For a moment, you see a life worth living, but you don’t trust it.”
John Shepard, in the role of Gabriel York, then takes the stage for an opening monologue, but it’s not fair to the rest of the cast to say that his is the lead role, for When the Rain Stops Falling is a play without any obvious “lead.” For one thing, while there are nine actors, one could argue that there are only seven characters, as two characters are each played by two different actors, representing them at different ages. Besides that, however, the characters’ individual stories are so tangled around each other you can’t say that the narrative is driven by any particular one of them, nor can you say that the narrative could hold together were one of them to drop out.
“I love being in a car at night. You can only see so far ahead and that’s enough.”
It’s also not fair to the other cast members only to call attention to John Shepard playing Gabriel York. Suffice to say, as in the play itself, that there isn’t a weak link in the chain. Director Martin Giles even managed to pull off a casting coup—Mary Rawson and Daina Michelle Griffith, playing Elizabeth at different ages, as well as Bridget Connors and Robin Abramson, playing Gabrielle at different ages, actually resemble each other just enough to help suspend the disbelief that they’re the same person. And I would guess that Director Giles didn’t start out simple looking for people who looked like each other. Let’s just call this a comment on the rich pool of available talent in Pittsburgh’s acting community.
“Let the dead take care of the dead.”
I must confess something. When I read a synopsis of the play, I didn’t read it carefully enough. I read, “In the year 2039 shifts in the weather have caused the mass extinction of most sea life…set in locations ranging from a London flat in 1959…to the coast of southern Australia in 2039” and thought to myself, “Oh, cool! Science fiction! I’m there!” I’m actually glad I got it so wrong, and that I lost all my preconceptions back in that opening scene. You may hear some crazy things about this play while you’re deciding whether or not you want to go see it. You may hear that it takes place partly in the future and go in there, as I did, thinking Sy-Fy Channel. You may hear that you’re not always sure what year it is or where it’s taking place and wonder if you’re better off catching the latest popcorn movie instead. You may hear that it isn’t necessarily a fun night out. Let me tell you, then, how simply powerful this play, and this production of it, is. You will definitely want to talk about it afterwards.
How long does the play run?
October 28th – November 21th (schedule)
All shows are at 8:00pm except Sundays (7:oopm)
Where is it?
Iron City Brewery (map)
3340 Liberty Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
How much are tickets?
Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday shows are $30 (general admission)
Friday and Saturday shows are $35 (general admission)
Student discounts are available ($15 with ID)