By Sari Caine; Directed by Sherri Eden Barber
Produced by Slightly Altered States
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 10.4.14
The Flea, 41 White Street
by Dave Osmundsen on 9.23.14
Adam LeFevre, Kathryn Rossetter, Sari Caine and David Rigo in Mr. Landing Takes a Fall. Photo by Eric Carter.
BOTTOM LINE: A hilarious and touching absurdist exploration of who we live with and how we live with them, acted with gusto by a great ensemble.
When you enter the Flea Theatre for Slightly Altered States’ production of Mr. Landing Takes a Fall, you enter through the threshold of the set, essentially indoctrinating yourself into the wacky world of this play. The set, cleverly designed by Clifton Chadick, brings to mind a fractured “Leave It to Beaver” episode with its bright colors, sharp angles, and appliances from the 1950s. Before the play even begins, you know that this isn’t going to be close to an ordinary exploration of the quietly desperate lives of suburbanites.
When show itself begins, we are presented with an odd image -- a man sitting on an easy chair reading a newspaper without any pants on, and a beaming housewife in a green dress with a feather-duster in one hand and a cigarette in the other. They are Mr. and Mrs. Landing, played respectively by Adam LeFevre and Kathryn Rossetter. Mrs. Landing proceeds to dust the house when the doorbell rings. She reveals to her husband that she has put the house up for sale. We then meet prospective buyers Michael (David Rigo) and Cynthia (Sari Caine, who also wrote the play), a young couple dressed for their wedding. They expect to be shown the house, but are given far more than what they bargained for. Over the course of one night, all four of the characters' hilarious and horrifying true selves emerge, and the action spirals out of control until all they are left with are their lonely, broken souls.
The play is absurdist, meaning that it explores humanity’s need to find meaning, and how oftentimes no meaning is found at all. It sounds bleak and abstract, but playwright Sari Caine has written plenty of hilarious lines and imbued her characters with humanity. In spite of its abstract nature, the play explores the basic theme of how we, as humans, can’t live with or without each other.
The acting is individually nuanced and brave, but the actors work so fantastically as an ensemble that it seems unfair to single any of them out. Suffice to say that they all succeed in playing both high comedy and pathetic vulnerability. Director Sherri Eden Barber has also done an excellent job of keeping all of the actors on the same page -- they comfortably inhabit this bizarre world. Although some of the character shifts in the play feel a bit sudden, and the pacing slows down in the darker second half of the play, the actors never lose their energy or commitment to this piece.
This production is also blessed with a fantastic design team. In addition to the aforementioned set design, lighting designer Derek Wright beautifully punctuates the progression of nighttime to morning. Mark Van Hare’s sound design also adds to the very skewed atmosphere of the play -- at one point, for example, we hear birds dropping unopened clams and mussels on the roof. Caitlin Cisek’s circa-1950s costumes are beautiful, and embrace the absurdist nature of the play.
This is the perfect play for those who love to think about and have in-depth discussions about the theatre they see. There is a lot to chew on, such as the meaning of the title (Mr. Landing has a physical fall at one point, but his metaphorical fall can certainly be argued) and the symbolism throughout. It is a very smart and funny play that isn’t afraid to show humanity at its highest and lowest.
(Mr. Landing Takes a Fall plays at the Flea Theater, 41 White Street, through October 4, 2014. Show times are Wednesdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7PM; and Sundays at 3PM with additional performances 9/22, 9/30 and 10/2 at 7PM. Tickets are available at ovationtix.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more info visit slightlyaltered.org.)