Theater review: “All That Fall” starring Michael Gambon
If you were to know as little as I did about the play All That Fall prior to attending, you would likely be taken off guard by the highly intimate theater, the nearly-bare stage, the minimal props, the scripts-in-hand, and the web of microphones hanging from the ceiling. But make no mistake, the most bewildering aspects of the show are in its brilliant writing and expert acting, proving just how captivating such a no-frills production can be.
All That Fall, by Samuel Beckett, was originally a radio play commissioned by the BBC and was first broadcast in 1957. This critically-acclaimed stage production of the play finished two highly successful runs in London at the Jermyn Street and Arts Theatres in 2012, but it has finally found a home in New York at the 59E59 Theaters.
Directed by Trevor Nunn and starring two of the finest stage actors, Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore in the latter six Harry Potter films), All That Fall is, at the risk of using a cliché, a ‘you’ll laugh and you’ll cry’ sort of story. It weaves constantly between sharply comedic and darkly depressing, but always deeply moving.
Atkins carries the majority of the 75-minute play as Maddy Rooney, an aged, rheumatic woman in rural Ireland struggling to get to the train station to meet her husband Dan Rooney. Along the way, she encounters a slew of people, revealing to each her negative outlook towards her deteriorating life in a sometimes hilarious, but often touchingly grim manner.
Being a radio play, there is a heavy reliance on sound effects and miming to get across many visuals of the story that cannot physically be seen. But the play doesn’t need a set, or even an off-stage, to hold your attention.
One of the most unique aspects of the production is that the actors who are not in the current scenes are seated around the perimeter of the stage, seemingly out-of-character. The supporting cast, chuckling at the interactions between Mr. and Mrs. Rooney, is a visual testament to how compelling the leads’ performances are. The cast has probably seen this play countless times, and yet they are still watching with genuine appreciation and entertainment at the enthralling performances before them.
But the play really hits its stride, (even if the literal stride of lead characters on their walk home is painfully dragging) when Maddy eventually meets her blind and ill-tempered husband Dan at the station. From here, the interplay between Atkins and Gambon is unforgettable.
Gambon is oh-too-infamous within the Harry Potter fandom for his ability to yell gruffly and violently, but in the moments where his temper explodes in All That Fall, there is no doubt that he commands that stage and the audience’s attention.
There is a wonderful contrast between the hardened, belligerent Dan and the woefully frail, yet feisty Maddy. Despite both of their physical conditions, the two are still bitingly sarcastic, unquestionably tough, miserable about the cards they’ve been dealt, and yet still subtly nurturing and loving towards each other.
At surface level, a large majority of the plot of All That Fall deals with elderly people struggling to physically get from one place to the other. But the deeper importance of the play comes through in the chilling dialogue which offers a very realistic insight into old age, longstanding marriage and grief.
This is a unique show that makes you think about yourself, how you will be if you reach that old age, how you will treat the people you love and how you will handle loss. And I would imagine if you have already reached that milestone, the play must surely strike a familiar chord in your heart. But regardless of your point in life, All That Fall is not to be missed.
It is running for a strictly limited engagement through Sunday, December 8. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday – Saturday at 8 p.m.; with matinee performances on Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m.; and Sunday at 3 p.m. There is also no performance on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 28.
Single tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 members), and can be purchased at www.59e59.org or by calling Ticket Central at (212)-279-4200.
Guest Blogger is Laura Reilly, MuggleNet Video Editor