A Report from Page-to-Stage: Theater J’s ‘Falling Out of Time’ and ‘Love Godfrey/Love George’

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FallingOutofTime

Theater J offered a first look at its adaptation of Falling Out of Time, David Grossman’s powerful saga of parental loss, at this year’s Page-to-Stage Festival held at The Kennedy Center last weekend.

The reading, performed by a cast of eight actors, was a ‘first’ in many ways, according to Acting Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky, who pointed out that most of the performers had never seen the script prior to the rehearsal that day. Derek Goldman, who adapted the play from Jessica Cohen’s translation and is directing it as well, urged viewers to think of it as a radio program, and to imagine the seated actors as they would be in the full-scale production, moving in and out among the audience.

Set in an unnamed village in a mythical land, peopled by archetypal figures and ruled by a distant duke, the play begins with a Man (Michael Tolaydo) and a Woman (Erika Rose), mourning the sudden death of their son. Although five years have passed, the Man suddenly announces that he must leave—he must go to their son, to the place of the dead—and speak to him one last time. He begs his wife to join him. She begs him to stay.  He goes.

Setting off on his own, the Man walks in widening circles around the town, gradually joined by other townsfolk. These include the Net Mender (Susan Rome), the Centaur (Edward Christian), the Midwife (Nora Achrati), the Cobbler (Todd Scofield), the Chronicler (Tom Story), and the Math Teacher (Leo Erickson). All, it turns out, are mourning the lost children whom they have been told to forget. Long isolated in their grief, they are strengthened by each other and by the journey itself.

As they walk, each of them has his or her own story to tell, beginning with lullabies and ending with death. The causes vary—accident, suicide, illness or war—but the loss is the same. Left behind, the Woman climbs to the top of the belfry where she observes the motley pilgrimage to the place where the living and the dead will meet.

Observing this strangely static journey from my seat at the reading, I couldn’t help but wonder how the play will be staged. Will the dead take form as translucent images—like ghosts—or will they remain images in the minds of the living? Will the fish nets, bath tubs and cradles emerge on stage? Will we really be able to smell the soup?

Will the centaur—the popular writer whose empty pages are testament to his loss—be a cranky monster with hooves?

Like others, I look forward to seeing the full-scale production—greatly tightened, of course, so that stage can supersede page without losing its beauty–when it is mounted six and a half months from now.

Falling Out of Time will have its world premiere in 2016 at Theater J – where it will run from March 17 – April 17, 2016. Four of the actors in the reading—Erika Rose, Nora Achrati, Edward Christian and Leo Erickson—will reprise their roles.  Purchase tickets online.

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Love Godfrey/ Love George     

At 'Love Godfrey/Love George': Front Row: Joshua Simon (George) (left), and Jaysen Wright (right). Back Row: (L to R): Playwright John Stoltenberg and Director Michael Poandl (leaning in). Photo by Joey Hamilton.
At ‘Love Godfrey/Love George’: Front Row: (L): Joshua Simon (George) and Jaysen Wright (right). Back Row: (L to R): Playwright John Stoltenberg and Director Michael Poandl (leaning in). Photo by Joey Hamilton.

Known to readers of DCMetroTheaterArts as a critic and columnist, John Stoltenberg is, at heart, a playwright. He began writing Love Godrey/Love George nearly 45 years ago, then put it aside.

Last year, thanks to Michael Poandl—a fellow reviewer at DCMTA—the play was resurrected. Produced by Blind Pug Arts Collective, it was performed as a dramatic reading at the Page-to-Stage Festival at The Kennedy Center on Monday.

In the play, two attractive young men are enjoying a honeymoon romp.  There are crumbs in the bed, Mickey Mouse on the sheets, pillow fights, and jokes about farts. The year is 1970, before Kent State or Stonewall had ever happened, a time when “gay rights” was an oxymoron and when Jim Crow stood for law.

George (Joshua Simon) is a devout Christian, serving God and the church by playing Bach oratorios. He is white. Godfrey (Jaysen Wright), who is black, is an unemployed model who has advertised his services in Screw Magazine. Although the phone rings repeatedly, they ignore it. Maybe, they joke, it’s a response to the ad. And maybe it’s George’s mother.

But it’s not George’s mother and nothing is the same when Godfrey picks up the phone and plunges into a nightmare from which rescue always seems imminent. But the law is distinct from morality, and both men are left to question an insanely ambivalent world.

Described as a “work in progress” by its author, Love Godfrey/Love George is not yet scheduled for a full-scale production. The play alternates between love and hate, between a belief that the system can work and the anger that comes of defeat. It’s a soul-sapping experience.

This play deserves a full production. It will be interesting to see how mime, and possibly choreography, can bring some of the nightmare alive. Here’s hoping that Blind Pug—working with Stoltenberg Poandl—and  hopefully these two fine actors—will find a way to bring this drama to a future stage.