Let’s just go to the proverbial bottom line: this is an engrossing and entertaining play currently on stage at The Vortex theater in a superior production by Different Stages and is one that is well worth seeing.
You can also apply adjectives such as “intriguing,” “imaginative,” “engaging,” “challenging,” “emotional,” “well-crafted.”
Director Norman Blumensaadt, the producing artistic director, for Different Stages, has assembled a stellar ensemble for the cast of this intergenerational drama that covers 80 years and two continents.
The play opens with a long monologue by Gabriel York (brilliantly played by Rick Smith, a Central Texas theater veteran in his debut role with Different Stages). He is the love child of Gabriel Law and Gabrielle York. He is in a dingy flat in Alice Springs, Australia, in 2039. He talks about his mother and step-father as he describes his anxiety waiting for the arrival of his son, Andrew (Porter Gandy), whom he had abandoned many years earlier.
Then we are introduced to Gabriel Law himself (played by Andy Smith) and his mother Elizabeth Perry Law (Katherine Schroder) in her apartment in London years earlier. The scene changes again and we meet the younger Elizabeth (Alexandra Russo) and her husband, Henry Law (Scot Friedman), at an even earlier moment in time.
Then back to Australia where we find Gabrielle York (in her later years, played by Paula Ruth Gilbert) with her husband, Joe Ryan (portrayed by Michael Costilla, who delivers a very masterful monologue at the play’s end).
This is followed by a scene in which we are shown where Gabriel meets the younger Gabrielle York (Taylor Flanagan), and they fall in love.
The play covers the period from 1959 to 2039. The locale changes back and forth between London and various places in Australia. There were at least 18 different “scene changes” even though the set remained throughout a very long table with chairs at either end and a long bench on the upstage side. A scrim, used primarily to project an images of falling raindrops, also was used to announce time and place. In this regard, the production had almost a Shakespearean feel to it. Characters left and new characters entered. In the case of the two women, very often the older and younger personas were on stage simultaneously, one active in the scene, and the other a silent observer.
To give you more details of the plot is not advised. First, it is a complicated, intricate story in which dark secrets and tangled relationships and momentous events over 80 years and four generations are revealed. Second, it is very akin to being a mystery that really requires the audience to concentrate on what is unfolding before them.
Pay close attention to the mementoes that appear throughout the play. At the end, when Andrew finally comes to have dinner with his father, Gabriel York, they sit at opposite ends of the long table. The other seven characters enter and sit — silently — on the long bench. Gabriel enters with a battered suitcase that contains the mementoes and passes them down to Andrew using the actors on the bench. As each icon is passed along, if it has meaning to a particular character, the actor takes a second to reflect on it. It is a very nice touch.
Study the family tree that appears in the program. This is case where it really helps to know the characters and their relationships prior to curtain rise.
The play runs nearly two hours without an intermission. The theater management invites the audience to walk outside the theater to take advantage of the adjacent Butterfly Bar if necessary — but don’t do it. The play’s pace and intricacy are such that you will miss something essential if you leave. It won’t seem like two hours anyway, since you will be so engrossed in the play and the characters.
When the Rain Stops Falling plays at The Vortex theater, 2307 Manor Road, Austin, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through July 18. There is no performance on July 4 but an added performance on Wednesday, July 15.