Directed by Anne Kauffman, Smokefall is a truly compelling poetic drama. This play is fulfilling to the mind and soul, with exceptional performances delivered by all the members of the cast. Playwright Noah Haidle is brilliant; he will make you feel all the stages of sadness from self-doubt and incompetence to mood swings. Haidle captures a growing family’s troubles. He shows how family troubles are not easily buried and take time to heal.
The plot of Smokefall takes place in a family home in Grand Rapids, Michigan- where our own playwright grew up. Violet, the mother, (Katherine Keberlein, lacks a strong tone and should have said her lines with more poise) is expecting twins, and often times her twins are her only companions. She wanders a lot on stage, and it makes me see her as the typical housewife, lost and wanting more from her life. Violet is married to Daniel (Eric Slater, as the father is plain and boring, he needs to make himself more memorable; his presence on stage is a drag) works for a living, and is lost in the family. I read Daniel as intimidating, and his family seems to make him that way. He cannot seem to handle the “father role”, and that’s why he just cuts out. They have a daughter named Beauty (Catherine Combs, superstar- she knows what she’s doing; the fact that she didn’t speak for most of the play and still made herself known is remarkable) who is silent, and strangely eats dirt and drinks paint. The paint eating and silence is her way of dealing with some family troubles. Lastly, we have the grandfather Colonel (Mike Nussbaum, is legend in the house. His dance moves are great and make him even more brilliant), he is charismatic and wise. Colonel is the funniest character. I admire him for his humor because he has been through a lot. He lost his wife and has memory lost, yet he still manages to be there for his family and go forward with life. Throughout the play there’s a Footnote (Guy Massey, the character I came to appreciate for being so informing) he helps further interpret the characters thoughts, but he gets annoying after the first few scenes.
Haidle follows the family through three different time angles past, present, and future. The most intriguing time is the future. The future intrigues me because some problems follow us forever and we must learn to let go in order to move forward. Back to the plot- unfortunately, only one of Violet’s twins survives. His name is Johnny. Johnny (Nussbaum is versatile, as Johnny he’s miserable and as Colonel easy going, so more praise to him.) is vulnerable. He cannot seem to get over the past; although he lives on to have a family. He has a son, and names him Samuel (Guy Massey, as Samuel I appreciate because he allows me to see that he can act, and with potency. The way he yells at Nussbaum is immense I was pleased) no surprise since that is his dead brother’s name. As an adult, Samuel reaches the breaking point. He is so fed up with misery that he explodes and tells Johnny that he’s made his life miserable by holding on to his family’s past. Combs appears again and brings clarity. She tells Johnny that he should not live in unhappiness and try moving forward with life.
Next, is the plain and precise scene design of Smokefall. The design says so much by showing so little. In one scene in particular, the twin Fetus one (Eric Slater, as Fetus one is suitable. His rambling is funny and incomprehensible) and Fetus Two are rambling on a blood red couch. Cleverly, Kevin Depinet set designer made it red so that it resembles a women’s womb. One other thing that stood out was the overall house slanting. The slanting depicted the family’s destruction and imperfections.
Smokefall is astonishing. It illustrates the emotional destruction of a family and how heart ache can be passed on to generation after generation. The production is remarkable in the sense that although it’s melancholy, it keeps you hopeful that things are going to work out. Smokefall delivers reality without any sugar coating. The rawness of Smokefall makes it noteworthy. It exceeds my expectations. I walked in thinking, great I’m going to barely keep awake for this, but I walked out fascinated. It’s magnificently written poetic drama that will stick with you.