Review by Laurel Humes of The Mystery Plays: Falcon Theatre
Do you know about sin eaters? You will after seeing The Mystery Plays at Falcon Theatre in Newport.
The show, two loosely related one-acts, delves into issues of violent and unexpected death, after-life, and the reactions of the people left behind. It is performed by six actors who play multiple roles.
These are compelling stories. In The Filmmaker’s Mystery, two passengers meet on a train and strike up what could become a blossoming romance. Except that Joe Manning inexplicably leaves the train before his scheduled stop. New friend Nathan West and 57 other passengers are all killed when the train crashes soon after.
End of story? Just the beginning. Surviving the crash brings Joe sympathy from his family and publicity for his career as a filmmaker. The police are suspicious; they want to know why Joe left the train just before the crash. Joe would like to understand that, too – he can’t explain, even to himself, the force that pulled him off the train.
“Why were you chosen?” Nathan asks Joe. The dead Nathan returns to haunt Joe and make some gruesome demands (see sin eater) that will help him get to the “other side.”
There are no visible ghosts in the second one-act, Ghost Children, and this story is told with more realism. Abby returns to her rural hometown 16 years after her parents and younger sister were murdered there – by her brother, who has spent these years in prison. His lawyers want to reopen the case, citing evidence not produced at the first trial, and they need Abby’s deposition.
This play’s most riveting scene sets the sheriff questioning the brother on the night of the murders side by side with Abby discussing the same night with the lawyers. As more is revealed about the siblings’ actions and inactions, we begin to understand Abby’s unpunished complicity in the murders.
The subjects of The Mystery Plays are grim, even creepy. Playwright Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa does insert some relieving humor, especially by the actors playing smaller roles.
As director Lindsey Augusta Mercer explains in the program notes, The Mystery Plays makes a nod to the medieval tradition of small acting troupes in England that traveled cross-country to perform stories from the Bible. Here, a narrator speaks directly to the audience to set up each play, summoning the actors, placing them on their marks.
Falcon’s production is true ensemble acting, and all the acting is skillful. I thought there were two stand-out performances. Leah Strasser’s stylized, dancer-like movement elevates the narrator role. Becca Howell’s Abby is heartfelt and entirely natural talking directly to the audience about her family’s murders.
Falcon’s small stage is not a handicap to this production, thanks to set and lighting designer Ted Weil. The set is primarily two pieces of scaffolding, which creates upper levels well-used by the actors. And the lighting is used to draw our attention to the current or most important scene, essential on a stage when two or three tableaux are set at once.
The Mystery Plays continues Nov. 12-14 and 19-21. Call 513-479-6783 or go to www.falcontheatre.net.