As with Johnna Adams’ Gidion’s Knot, a drama staged earlier this year in InnerMission Productions’ black box space in University Heights, Deanna Jent’s 2012 one-act play Falling is intense almost to the breaking point. The anxiety of its characters is quickly absorbed by the audience, resulting in an immersive theater experience.
Falling is the story of Josh, a severely autistic 18-year-old boy who cannot care for himself and who, because of his unpredictable aggressive behavior, proves even a physical threat to his family. This does not deter Tami and Bill, Josh’s loving parents, who meet the formidable moment-to-moment challenges of his care with sacrifice, patience and fortitude, even as the crushing helplessness of doing so imperils their marriage and each’s own emotional well-being. Also in the suburban household are Josh’s frightened and angry sister and a visiting Bible-toting grandmother who believes that prayers to the Almighty will somehow make everything right.
Tami and Bill know that they won’t.
D. Candis Paule and Steve Schmitz heroically portray Josh’s parents in InnerMission’s 80-minute production, with Alanna Serrano as the teen sister Lisa and Kathi Copeland playing Grammy Sue. Robert Malave brings dauntless focus, physicality and an undercurrent of innocence, too, to the remarkably complex role of Josh in a performance that never rests. Josh is disturbingly singing along to “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” from “Mary Poppins” one minute, then cowering, covering his ears and crying out because of a dog’s barking the next. Malave’s every sound and agitation reverberate in the tiny black box theater.
Tautly directed by actress Samantha Ginn, who also works with autistic children and young adults, Falling is unsettling and uncomfortable to watch at times. The tension and uncertainty accompanying every interaction, no matter how seemingly routine, between Josh and his family are relentless. But the unselfish love exuded in Schmitz’s and especially Paule’s performances, along with Malave’s fearless commitment as autistic Josh, make an indelible impression. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 11/22/17.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.