Falling Out of Time: Mélange of metaphors shape allegory at Theatre J

Michael Russotto and Edward Christian in Falling Out of Time at Theatre J. (C. Stanley Photography)

“In August he died, and when that month was over, I wondered
How can I move
to September
While he remains
in August?” ~ David Grossman

There may be nothing more unnatural in the human experience than the death of one’s child. Israeli author David Grossman endured such a trauma, when his youngest son was killed in the Israeli-Lebanon conflict of 2006. Turning his personal grief into words in 2014, Grossman penned Falling Out Of Time – a deeply personal novel which has now been published in some thirty languages. This week, Theatre J in Washington, D.C. premiered an engrossing, immersive adaptation of Falling Out Of Time.

Adapted and directed by Derek Goldman (from a translation by Jessica Cohen), Falling Out Of Time threads the stories of nine sullen individuals – all are struggling with the anguish of losing a child. Each story is unique, but the common denominator is the walk of life every parent must make, often taking steps for a son or daughter who is no longer there.

Nanna Ingvarsson as the Chronicler's wife in Falling Out Of Time. (C. Stanley Photography `
Nanna Ingvarsson
as the Chronicler’s wife in Falling Out Of Time. (C. Stanley Photography)

But where is “there”? As one character expresses it:

“There is
is breath
inside the pain
there is breath”

The language in this adaptation is thought-provoking and beautiful. Credit here is due – not only to Grossman and Cohen – but also to the ensemble. There were places on opening night when some of the dialogue sounded a bit affected, but for the most part, the cast puts this show over by delivering difficult lines with feeling and compassion. Moving performances are offered by Joseph Wycoff (Man) and Leo Erickson (Math teacher). Nora Achrati (as the empty-handed Mid-wife) and Nanna Ingvarsson (as the Chronicler’s wife), are more subdued, but no less solid in their roles.

Particularly strong (in what may be the most difficult part of the play) is Edward Christian as the tortured soul called Centaur. While other meaning-rich metaphors abound in this play, Christian has the laborious task of portraying a man seemingly torn asunder by his grief. This is especially evident when he barks at the bothersome Chronicler (ably acted by Michael Russotto) :

“Leaves! But dry ones, right? Crumbling. Dead. Did you get that – and someone keeps stepping on them, over and over again.”

Grieving parents Joseph Wycoff (Man) and Erika Rose Woman) struggle with their loss. (C. Stanley Photography)
Grieving parents Joseph Wycoff (Man) and Erika Rose (Woman) struggle with their loss. (C. Stanley Photography)

Theatre J regulars should be happy to find that the artistic team of the Helen Hayes Award Winning production of Our Class reunites for Falling Out of Time. Set designer Misha Kachman creates a simple but suitable space which allows each character room to transcend the confines of their closed existence. The immersive aspect of the production has a dozen or so audience members on the stage, while two rows of seats are blocked off to allow movement of the players around the auditorium.

Both lighting (Colin K. Bills) and sound (Eric Shimelonis) work well in creating an other-worldly effect for the lost townspeople. Costume designer Ivania Stack’s turn-of-the-century furnishings help to draw the audience in, though the veiny undergarments are at best distracting.

At ninety minutes (with no intermission) the play does begin to wear near the one hour mark, and from a critical standpoint this reviewer feels that at least 15 minutes could easily be cut from the entire affair. That said, Falling Out Of Time should resonate with many – especially anyone who has lost a child or may be dealing in any way with the death of a loved one. In the end, Grossman offers a glimmer of hope, but he never shies away from the pain:

“The passing time is painful. I have lost the art of moving simply, naturally, within it. I am swept back against its flow. Angry, vindictive, it pierces me all the time, all the time with its spikes.”

* * * * *

Falling Out of Time runs now – April 17, 2016, at Theater J in the Washington D.C. JCC’s Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater,1529 16th Street, NW in Washington, D.C., (4 blocks east of Dupont Circle). Running time is ninety minutes with no intermission. On Sunday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. the show will have open-captioning for the hearing impaired. There will be a special noon matinee on Wednesday, April 6. Stage seating tickets cost $35. Tickets and other information (including parking tips) are available at theaterj.org or (202) 777-3210.