Review: Ireland 100: ‘All That Fall’ by Pan Pan Theatre

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All That Fall is quite the most quite unique, powerful, and delightful experiences I’ve had at the theatre.  Director Gavin Quinn, the Co-Artistic Director of Pan Pan Theatre, brings this radio play by Samuel Beckett, written 1956, to life.

Pan Pan Theatre Company's 'All that Fall. Photo by Ros Kavanagh.
Pan Pan Theatre Company’s ‘All that Fall. Photo by Ros Kavanagh.

Pan Pan is an Irish company that performs internationally and is known for their genre-bending pieces that mix theatre, song, performance art, and more. They’ve graced DC for the IRELAND 100 festival at the Kennedy Center, which celebrates all aspect of Irish culture on the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising and Ireland’s independence.

This is a worthy offering to that celebration. Beckett has a gift for glorifying the mundane – an aging woman meeting her husband at the train and walking home together – which manages to make a statement on aging, marriage, God, love, and life itself.

Quinn sticks to the classic conventions of radio with sound effects to a picture as the script follows Mrs. Rooney (Aine Ni Mhuiri) to the train station where tragedy has struck. Radio plays are a genre unto themselves and that alone makes this worth seeing. Sound Designer Jimmy Eadie artfully creates an Irish village with old vehicles and the occasional donkey, and when the train finally does arrive it is awe-inspiring.

Aedín Cosgrove, Co-Artistic Director, has outdone himself as the set/theater designer, to fill out the experience and engage the rest of your senses. The audience sits in a random spread of rocking chairs on skull cushions under bold light bulbs against a wall of lights over children’s carpet of a small village. The wall of lights offers the merest hint of visuals – a square of them for automobile, evocative shapes, and at one striking moment, a cross.

The lights start out dark though and in the darkness the voices of Ireland fill the intimate Terrace Gallery as Mrs. Rooney starts down the road. Mhuiri has a wonderfully expressive voice that brings pathos to the role and never lets her slide into petulance as she describers herself  “destroyed by sorrow and pining and gentility and church going and fat and rheumatism and childlessness.” Beckett’s sly humor never lets the Irish lament feel too heavy. Mrs. Rooney adds, “I have only ever wanted to be loved…twice a day.”

She meets a cast of characters on her way to the station, more and less willing to help her on her small journey. From Mr. Tyler (Phelim Drew), an old admirer with a broken bicycle to Mr. Slocum (David Pearse), a rich man with his limousine. His and Tommy’s (Robbie O’Connor) attempt to get her into and out of it are some of the funniest moments of the play. Both actors know how to mine for humor. Mr. Barrell (John Kavanagh) works for the railroad and does not know why the train is late. He is another fixture in village life. Mrs. Rooney says, “You stepped into your father’s shoes when he took them off.”

Miss Fitt (Judith Roddy) reluctantly helps her a slope. She may or may not want to talk, and may or may not be in earnest, but does help her. Beckett lends magnificence to interactions we’ve all seen and been roped into a thousand times a day.

The highlight comes when Mr. Rooney (Andrew Bennett) arrives and they go back home. He is quintessential crotchety old man who wants to save his pennies but cannot add, can barely walk, and deeply loves his wife. Bennett and Mhuiri create this wonderful, real relationship in a series of random, funny, heartbreaking conversations. Though he is reluctant at first, saying, “Do not ask me to talk and move at the same time. “

This play is about waiting for a train. It’s about getting sick and getting old. It’s about the love you share with someone over many decades. It’s about surviving. These characters are archetypes that never fall into cliché and Beckett manages to peek at infinity in a regular afternoon walk. That is a gift of many Irish artists. Many other cultures have much less respect for the every day in their art and are far less deft at mixing hilarity and tragedy.

From the unusual theatre, to the unique play, to the skill of the actors, All That Fall is a rare treat.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

IRELAND 100: All That Fall plays through May 21, 2016 The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater Gallery –  2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or Toll-Free: (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

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