“Falling” was supposed to play for two weeks. But Deanna Jent’s little drama-that-could was extended again and again in fall 2011 and then chugged ahead to Off-Broadway a year later for a three-month run. It also made its way to Los Angeles and is heading to Brazil next year.
But St. Louisans don’t have to travel to see it or watch it a second time. Mustard Seed Theatre is re-staging the story of the Martin family and its autistic teenage son at Fontbonne University every Thursday to Sunday through May 4. The saga of the Martins and their boy Josh is a tale drawn from Jent’s own struggles with her son Andy, but it resonates with many kinds of families that include someone who’s hard to love.
Such families understand the Martin’s needs for special code words and creative intervention. When Josh grabs Grammy Sue’s bottle of pills to shake like maracas in an impromptu dance, his mother Tami (Michelle Hand) immediately steps in time with him, knowing he’ll return the pharmacological noise-maker if only she can slip into his private world. It’s a dance she follows every day, all day, and into the night until her energy shrinks to the effort needed to raise a glass of wine.
Greg Johnston also returns as Josh’s dedicated-but-weary father Bill, as do Katie Donnelly as his disdainful sister and Carmen Russell as his bible-toting Grammy Sue. That their relationship to Josh defines each member of the family is indicative of his enormous psychological and physical presence.
Daniel Lanier is new to the cast as Josh, a role he assumed with the help of a movement coach who asked him to imagine what it would feel like to be painfully startled by every sound and unable to express his emotions through words.
Lanier's Josh is a powerful whirling dervish who grabs fistfuls of his mother’s hair, tears at her shirt until she sheds it and lunges at his grandmother. Audiences gasp at the implications of his violence, the calm manner in which his mother absorbs it and the ways in which it controls the family’s every move. It’s not easy to watch. But if you do so without blinking, you’ll enjoy a rare glimpse of raw humanity, in all its hate, love, humor and glory.
Mustard Seed’s 2014-2015 schedule also includes a reprisal of its award-winning “All Is Calm.” Earlier this month, the play garnered five St. Louis Theatre Critics Circle Awards, including "Outstanding Musical Production of 2013."
Deanna Jent explains how Grammy Sue's visit exposes the family's vulnerabilities in "Falling."
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