JoBeth Williams rivets the audience and commands the stage as the grieving mother in playwright Joel Drake Johnson’s latest, “The Fall to Earth,” currently receiving its West Coast premiere at the Odyssey Theatre.
As Fay, a long-suffering wife (as she continuously, not-so-subtly harps on) and the estranged mother of Rachel and the recently dead Kenny, Williams rambles and drones on and on about everyday trivia annoying the hell out of her daughter. These two strong women “can take it” as they keep reminding each other — or are they actually reassuring each other in this, their moment of crisis? They have both just checked into a motel room to claim Kenny’s body from the small town’s morgue.
Deborah Puette as Rachel makes the perfect verbal sparring partner for Williams in this sharp, jabbing duel of words in which Rachel tries so hard not to deliver the inevitable lethal verbal blow to her hurting, yet oblivious mom.
As the policewoman that handles the release of Kenny’s corpse to the bereaved ladies, Ann Noble mysteriously plays this cold professional with a heart as a guilty someone with a secret she’s debating about divulging — or not.
Robin Larsen directs the tense, confined action in a smooth, steady pace, revealing elements of the story slowly, keeping the suspense forever building, but the culmination not quite reachable.
After sitting on the edge of my seat for 85 minutes of the 90-minute performance, I found the ending unsatisfying and unclear. One nonsensical, extraneous plot point also distracted me. It was unbelievable that Rachel, who lives and breaths through her cellphone, would leave the motel room without it — twice!
Tom Buderwitz designed the perfectly claustrophobic chain-motel-room set which transforms smoothly into a police station interrogation room (with the morgue on the side).
—Gil Kaan, Culture Spot LA
Performances continue through April 1 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., LA 90025. Showtimes are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. (except Sunday, March 18, at 7 p.m. only). (Wednesday performances on Feb. 29 and March 14 & 28 only; Thursday performances on Feb. 16 & 23 and March 8 & 22. No performances March 9 through 11.) For reservations, visit www.odysseytheatre.com or call (310) 477-2055.