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Great Falls

a Atlanta Premiere
by Lee Blessing

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4086

SHOWING : July 06, 2011 - July 31, 2011



A girl and her step-father take a road trip, going on a journey that takes them across the map of America and deep into their own troubled hearts. By one of America’s best playwrights, author of Eleemosynary, A Walk In the Woods and Going To St. Ives

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Only a Motion Away
by Dedalus
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Lee Blessing’s “Great Falls” is an exquisite onion of a play, a many-layered character study that slowly peels away layers of silence and resentment until it arrives at the core of a step-father step-daughter relationship, a core that may or may not be salvageable. And every layer tears away reluctantly, like scabs whose loss can only lead to more pain, more tears.

Lee Blessing is a writer who excels in small-cast character studies. His “A Walk in the Woods” brought cold war détente to a personal level, “Eleemosynary” brought détente to three generations of a family of exceptional women, and, “Patient A” brought Mr. Blessing himself to the stage as a character in a “meta-analysis” of the cultural politics of AIDS. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and was looking forward to this production (as I am looking forward to Aurora’s production of “A Body of Water” later this season).

I was not disappointed. “Monkeyman” (Emmett Furrow) has manipulated his step-daughter (Ashleigh Hoppe) into joining him on a cross-county trip. That is, he has more or less kidnapped her, but soon has manipulated her into agreeing to the trip. During the course of the journey, we learn more and more about these characters, each carrying far too many unheal-able wounds, each carrying more pain and anger than most humans should bear. Although we never learn their real names (she only refers to herself as “Bitch” and won’t let him use her real name) we learn so much about them and they way they deal with other that we leave the play knowing them better than most of our friends and acquaintances. Each revelation (some which may not be even true) is a new story, a new layer to over-paint the image we had previously constructed in our minds. The whole trip comes to a crisis (which the spoiler police won’t let me reveal here) in a small town called “Great Falls,” after which the two return home (or to what passes for home).

As simple as this plot sounds, it is built upon two characters who are extraordinarily complex, and not always particularly likeable. He’s a famous writer whose fame has led him into too many bad choices. She is a survivor of a childhood trauma who has retreated into adolescent surliness and poetry. Writing, in fact, soon becomes a common thread in their journey, a core of similarity they both try to nurture until it blows up in their faces.

Mr. Furrow and Ms. Hoppe are absolutely brilliant in their work here. They are asked to do a series of two-person scenes, often in the front seat of a car, always commanding our attention, always with a surprise, a nuance, or a revelation that upsets everything we thought we knew about them. I found myself spellbound throughout. Mr. Blessing’s brilliantly evocative dialog may have had a lot to do with this, but the work of these two actors carried the lion’s share of the burden of selling this story. These are two of the best performances of the year, and they bring these characters to life so well, I left the theatre with a sense of loss, as if friends had left my life forever.

Technically, the show is very simple. A black stage, a few set pieces, a door, a bed, a picnic bench, a projection screen, all shift with cinematic flow to tell the story, the two characters always in focus, never lost on an otherwise empty stage. Ellen McQueen’s direction is simple and elegant, orchestrating pace and performance and design into a whole that is seamless.

To evoke Paul Simon, “Monkeyman” wanted to orchestrate a “Father and Step-Child Reunion,” thinking the “motion away” would be a grand tour of all the tourist spots he enjoyed with his parents. That he fails so miserably in this plan, but succeeds in learning more than he cared to about his daughter, that he ends up sharing more of his own failures than he cared to, is the driving energy of this play.

This play is dense in theme as well as story and character. We see echoes of the breakdown of the nuclear family, the confusion of sex and intimacy, the trivialization of the American Landscape (Natural Beauty or Tourist trap? It’s only a cheap motel room and a bagful of souvenirs away), the problem of alienation and openness NOT healing wounds but possibly making them worse, the confluence of literature and life (do we, indeed, become what we write?), and, my favorite, how victimization can be an ongoing process (the predators will always find those weakened by prior trauma). Still, all these themes come across as simple parts of a consistent whole, seem to be “in service” to the main plot theme of the search being half the battle – though the journey may fail, the effort remains sublime.

This was one of my favorite productions of the year, and I can’t recommend it to you strongly enough. When writing and performance and design and direction come together with this much elegance and this much force, it becomes truly magic. And “Great Falls” is truly magic.

-- Brad Rudy (



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