Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Mystery Plays: Falcon Theatre
Our story lies between the House of Secrets and House of Mystery.
So says the interlocutor (Leah Strasser) at the beginning of Robert Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Mystery Plays, now showing at Falcon Theatre. This dark brooding play on the mysteries of life, death, and the hereafter is in reality two plays—“The Filmmaker’s Mystery” and “Ghost Children.”
In the first of these plays we find filmmaker Joe Manning (Adam Jones) visiting his parents for Christmas on a train when he is seized by a sudden impulse to leave the train just as the train pulls away from the station. Without giving too much of the plot away, Manning finds himself fortunate to have left the train and is compelled to reconnect with Nathan West (Simon Powell) whom he meets on the train. From this point, I really cannot go into any more details for fear of spoiling the ending of this superb and suspenseful story.
The first of these mystery plays hits its mark magnificently. It slowly builds in suspense and mystery until the final reveal where there are even more mysteries left to puzzle out. Jones and Powell do a very convincing job with their respective roles and are totally believable. In the opening scene, their slow-build dialogue was compelling; they turn simple conversation into verbal flirtation that ends with them setting up a brunch and movie date and the possibility of something more.
Joe Manning is completely befuddled during the second half of this play and Jones sculpts that befuddlement into different shades and tones of confusion. Likewise Powell also does excellent work, especially giving a memorable exit during his final scene when his train has come.
The second of the mystery plays did not live up to the suspense and mystery of the first. Attorney Abbey Gilley, played by Becca Howell, is forced to confront her past and her brother Ben, played by Jared Earland, who killed their parents and their sister when he was a teenager and is now coming up for retrial.
I had mixed feelings about the second of these plays.
On the one hand, Earland and Powell deliver strong performances as the brother and sister caught in an abusive home whose only way out is parricide (or the killing of one’s parents– it is always fun to have an electronic thesaurus handy when writing reviews). Both delivered strong performances and their fine work can be seen within the flashbacks that happen during the night of the murders. Earland especially shines in these scenes, since he is able to blend an eerie combination of innocence and savage force in his portrayal of Ben Gilley.
Despite this fact, the second story does not mesh with the expectations set up within the first play. They do not feel interconnected, despite being in the same bill de fare. This is a fault of the script and it mars two performers who dominate this play.
Director Lindsey Augusta Mercer does an expert job with creating a tone and feel for the play that was part Emo and part Steampunk. The set is very basic, just a metal scaffolding and a few other props, although I had the feeling that if there was a larger stage, the actors could have more effectively used that scaffolding. Entrances and exits had to be modified because of lack of space.
I was surprised by this play because it has the look and feel of a Know Theatre production circa the Jason Bruffy years. The subject matter was dark, the costuming and sets sparse, and the acting magnificent. I do not know if this is a new direction for Falcon, but I feel artistically the director and actors created a unity in the production that was compelling, despite my qualms about the script.
I recommend this production. It has some gravitas and weight to it, while also being an engaging evening of theater. The Mystery Plays runs for its final week November 19, 20, and 21, 2015. For ticket information, visit http://falcontheater.net/.