I saw the preview performance of “Before A Fall” yesterday, and I could tell this was a group very ready for an audience. Go be that audience. This is a story that, like “To Kill a Mockingbird”, is not an entirely comfortable, but it is an important message and well-written, nonetheless. And like the dramatization of “Mockingbird”, it addresses these uncomfortable ideas an in an appropriate, non-offensive way. These actors and this script deserve an audience.
The actors had a secure handle of their characters and conveyed the intricacies and secrets of the story with depth and control. Costa played Darla June Hawkins, the young woman at the center of the drama, with much aplomb. She demonstrated a nice balance of too much unwanted experience with the world against an innocent trust in the universe. The bond between Darla and Lala, played with adorableness and professionalism by McRae, was very convincing. Howe understood the double life of Rev. Hawkins, leaving the audience with just the right amount of an unsettled feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Napoli played the conflicted teacher with much determination; one of her most poignant scenes was with Principal Sharpe (Oliver), as they pondered what else they could have done to right the wrongs that were revealed.
The script was well-written with its careful weaving of past and present and overlapping scenes. The overlap was very effective in presenting multiple connotations to simple phrases and dialogue, the impact of which would have been lost in a linear presentation. The overlap and dovetailed storytelling also kept the story moving forward at a very comfortable pace. Each of the secrets was revealed at just the right time of the show. There were three lines in particular that shot right through me, but all of them are key plot lines that I would do no justice to a future audience member to reveal them here. Go be moved to varying levels of emotions by them yourself! The show flowed well from scene to scene, due to the script, lighting, sound, and simple to utilize set design, and the actors moved seamlessly through these moments. And the beautiful words and moment at the end, well, let’s just say, have some tissue handy.
I have a few minor nitpicks of an otherwise solid presentation. I would have liked more growth and depth in the role of the parents, Fayrene and Junior. I was not entirely sure where Fayrene’s journey was going, and there was a lot of potential for change in Junior that was not fully realized. For example, I wanted more with the procession; I wanted that moment to show a character change in Junior. Perhaps there wasn’t one, and that was the point. But I expected a clearer message from the scene. Also, the bus stop was slightly awkward, with the cross or the sound effect; I’m not sure that moment was even necessary. And lastly, the attorneys seemed backwards. For the defense, I expected more emotional play and “jury” connection from Hale, and for the prosecutor, I expected an attitude that was sharp, “I am doing justice” from Ball. Also, I would have switched their costumes. Prosecutors tend to have a standard “look”, and Ball’s costume looked more like a social worker. And for the defender, I was also expecting something that would tone her down to make her more relatable to the jury of that community. However, none of these criticisms effected my overall enjoyment and emotional engagement in the play.
Thank you to Ms. Mercer for sharing the story, for the cast and crew for presenting an important message, and the Hollywood Fringe Festival for making this play available to an audience.