Josh Martin is autistic and as he has matured into his late teens his inexpressible frustrations will sometimes manifest violently, causing the rest of his family to walk on egg shells. Their already extremely regimented lives that revolve around Josh have escalated to an even greater level of preparation and care. So when Grammy Sue comes to stay for a week, tensions are high with everybody hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.
Rogue Machine’s production of Jent’s touching play is phenomenal. It is gut-wrenchingly intense and certainly not for the faint of heart, but a beautiful portrayal of the sacrifices that some make in the name of love. Both of the parents, played by Anna Khaja and Matthew Elkins, do a great job of switching between their two very distinct realities – interacting with Josh and interacting with everyone else. Khaja is incredible. The contrast that she accomplishes between her an unending love and patience for Josh to the slow descent into an almost catatonic state from trying to get through each moment without breaking down is remarkable. She is clearly the rock that the family buoys around, and that weight pressing down on her shoulders is evident for all to see. Elkins strikes a lovely balance of loving and caring for his wife, yet being wholly frustrated that she shuts him out and doesn’t let him bear some of the weight that she is carrying.
As so much time is spent talking about him, and reeling from his actions it is easy to forget that Josh is a fully-fledged character in the play and not just a catalyst that keeps shoving the plot forward. Especially since the emotional toll of the rest of the family is so evident and are feelings that we can relate to, while Josh’s emotions and actions are foreign and therefore harder to decipher. That being said, Matt Little, as Josh, does an outstanding job. His mannerisms, his speech patterns, his detached interactions with others seem as natural as if he was actually autistic. Filling in the supporting roles wonderfully are Tara Windley as the sister and Karen Landry as Grammy Sue.
Director Elina de Santos cast this production perfectly and through her direction keeps everything very grounded and real. Aiding this pursuit is the fight director Joe Sofranko. Unarmed fights between unskilled combatants are some of the hardest to not only choreograph but also to effectively execute. The moments of violence in this production feel spontaneous with a definite sense of danger and concern for the characters involved, however, that concern never spills over to the actors because of unsafe practices. The set by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz is comfortable and has homey touches throughout making it easy for the actors to interact with their environment as if they’ve lived there for years. The only questionable aspect of the design is the plastic sheeting visible whenever the front door is open that is also visible above the walls of the set and painted with what looks like seaweed. It gives the set a bit of an underwater feel that is incongruous with everything else.
“Falling” by Deanna Jent is an unapologetically realistic look at what life is like for a family with a special-needs child. The change of the family dynamic as that child matures. The toll that it takes on the marriage of the parents. The frustrations of being the healthy child whose needs and desires never come first. The teeth-grinding patience required to interact with outside people who have no clue what your daily life is like, but feel the need to give you advice anyway. But at its core, “Falling” is about loving someone who is hard to love, despite all of the repercussions.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News