Audience members take note: if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you may want to avoid When the Rain Stops Falling, the darkly depressive play by Andrew Bovell currently in performances at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater. A multi-generational story of depression and dysfunction, this play could easily sink under its own weight. However, the swift direction of David Cromer and a cast of strikingly talented actors shoulder the burden of the script’s weight and produce an effective, if gloomy, play.
Beginning in 2039, as a torrential rainfall soaks the earth, the show introduces the audience to the Law-York family, a clan of alcoholics, depressives and pedophiliacs whose mistakes cycle repeatedly through the generations. They repeat the same patterns and even the same dialogue as their predecessors, and they all share an inexplicable habit of serving fish soup. A severe and disastrous tragedy links the generations with each other, but its occurrence feels a bit too coincidental for the play, and the show’s ending, which features a sudden reunion and resolution that – yes, you guessed it – stops the rain.
What saves this play from itself is the cast, all members of which are stellar. As Gabriel York, Michael Siberry delivers a powerful opening monologue, acutely and honestly expressing sadness, anger, regret and apprehension all within a few minutes. Victoria Clark is also a standout, tackling the challenging role of a woman struggling to reconcile her past with her present, while her ever-patient and loving husband struggles to keep her with him just a little bit longer. Kate Blumberg presents a compelling portrayal of a young woman struggling with the complications of motherhood, while Mary Beth Hurt’s aged, alcoholic version of her is even more devastating. Will Rogers gives a solid performance as Gabriel, a young man in search of answers, and Susan Pourfar’s Gabrielle tackles a complicated part with remarkable assurance.
While the performances are praiseworthy, they cannot hide the lack of clarity and the play suffers from. It is never clear what the author is trying to accomplish with this show. Is it a statement about family? Social dysfunction? Global warming? No one can tell.
This lack of focus is also apparent in the staging, which becomes confusing at times, and it can be difficult to tell who is who and which version of that person they are. This vehicle is detrimental to the show, as it distances the audience from the characters, preventing emotional connection or investment. Even though the rain does stop, eventually, the inevitable cycle of this clan’s sorrow remains with you long after the sky clears.