Review: ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia

The Wilma Theater’s production of When the Rain Stops Falling, directed by Blanka Zizka, begins in complete darkness. Then comes the deluge of a rainfall, and one is  immediately whisked into the somber story. The play, written by Andrew Bovell, carries a rich and flavorful platter of themes, including climate change, secrecy, parentage. The story takes place in London and various parts of Australia, between the years of 1959 and 2039. The piece is truly remarkable, and is made so by one of the most vigorously cohesive ensembles I’ve ever seen on a professional stage.

The company of 'When the Rain Stops Falling.' Photo by Matt Saunders.

The company of ‘When the Rain Stops Falling.’ Photo by Matt Saunders.

The cast members’ interactions with one another were seamless across the board, in staging, direction, lighting (by Yi Zhao), sound (by Christopher Colucci), costumes (by Vasilija Zivanic), and of course acting. Because the show jumps around in time, some scenes featured older versions of the same characters (Nancy Boykin and Melanye Finister) sitting off to one side in shadow, reminiscing in bitterness, anguish, or nostalgia as the younger versions of themselves (Sarah Gliko and Taysha Marie Canales) played out scenes from their past. The other members of this excellent ensemble are Keith J. Conallen, Anthony Martinez-Briggs, Brian Ratcliffe, Steve Rishard, and Lindsay Smiling.

So much of the actor’s art is about reacting, and the most haunting properties of this production were the silences as the characters make various realizations of the horrible truths the others hide.

Brian Ratcliffe, Taysha M. Canales, and Melanye Finister. Photo by Matt Saunders.

Brian Ratcliffe, Taysha M. Canales, and Melanye Finister. Photo by Matt Saunders.

Though this was the first time I’d seen the play, I learned there are various ways it has been interpreted in past productions, including double-casting of certain roles. Zizka’s deliberate decision to keep each role separate was strong, and her overall concept of visuals truly drew me into the world. The set, designed by Matt Saunders, was dazzling, ranging from vivid projections illustrating celestial movement to the complete reality of cool wind and rain. It truly lent to the intensity and sheer weight of each scene, without deterring from the stakes at hand.

Bovell’s work began as a mystical shroud that left me confused and even frustrated within the first 20 minutes of his play. Who are these people?, I thought. Wait, where did that guy come from? Ok, now I’m confused. Why does she have an Australian accent and why does he have a British one? But as time went on, the veil began to lift exponentially, and When the Rain Stops Falling ended as a gorgeously crafted mosaic.

It was akin to two of my favorite works, Crash and Cloud Atlas, in a slightly more sophisticated way.

Anthony Martinez-Briggs and Lindsay Smiling. Photo by Matt Saunders.

Anthony Martinez-Briggs and Lindsay Smiling. Photo by Phil Stein.

Each reveal of the characters’ interwoven stories brought my forehead closer to the stage as I leaned in to pay attention. It almost became a game, and towards the end I made a shocking realization before the characters acknowledged it. And yet when they did, the weight of it crashed down on me and literally sent shivers up and down my spine, rocking my core to the verge of tears.

The resolution of the play was absolutely beautiful. With the help of props and staging, I felt I was sitting in the room with these characters, experiencing every bit of questioning, longing, and ancestral connection that they were.

Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.

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When the Rain Stops Falling plays through November 6, 2016 at the Wilma Theater – 265 South Broad Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets call (215) 546-7824, or purchase them online.

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