How A Boy Falls
At the Northlight Theatre by Dan Zeff
Skokie –“How a Boy Falls” at the Northlight Theatre is a 75-minute suspense exercise whose main goal is keeping an audience guessing. For patrons who like to match wits with playwright Steven Dietz’s corkscrew narrative, “How a Boy Falls” could be an entertaining puzzle. For those who want their dramatic dots connected coherently, the play probably will be confusing and annoying.
There are five on-stage characters in “How a Boy Falls. Paul is a middle aged millionaire married to Miranda They hire a young woman named Chelle as an au pair to care for their young son Alex. Outside this family unit are and Sam and Mitch, two young men who have their own agendas. Everyone has secrets and shifting identities that are eventually, if not persuasively, unveiled. Beyond that, fair play demands that details of the storyline be withheld. In any case I doubt that I could summarize the storyline with any intelligibility.
Dialogue in this kind of play requires close attention from the viewer. Seemingly trivial chit chat at the beginning of the play will turn out to provide relevant clues about what is to follow. But the audience doesn’t know what to listen for early on, so as the narrative progresses they likely will be perplexed about how the narrative has reached certain points. Some viewers may triumphantly depart the Northlight claiming they knew what was going on all along. Others may be convinced that the plot is full of holes and the narrative won’t hold up to close examination. Still others may depart simply shrugging “Who cares?”
Because “How a Boy Falls” is not really a thriller, audiences will be denied the pleasure of nervously enduring mysterious unknown killers or spooky stage effects. There isn’t a single fright in the play and the plot surprises aren’t chilling. The action is set in an abstract designed two-level home with no Gothic shadows or draperies that conceal who knows what terrors. None of the five characters is in physical danger and at the end of the play most of them just go their own way.
The ensemble consists of Tim Decker as Paul, Michelle Duffy as Miranda, Travis Knight as Mitch, Sean Parris as Sam, and Cassidy Slaughter-Mason as Chelle. They are all excellent, especially Slaughter-Mason’s Chelle, who may be the most interesting, and mysterious figure in the play. Decker manages a few menacing moments as Paul but the action still needs more sweaty palm injections. Halena Kays is the director. The designer team consists of Lizzie Bracken (set), Izumi Inaba (costumes), Jason Lynch (lighting), and Rick Sims (sound).
Ultimately, “How a Boy Falls” is a suspense play that offers only modest suspense and characters who aren’t particularly interesting. A few days earlier I saw a splendid revival of Agatha Christie’s suspense melodrama “The Mousetrap” at the Court Theatre. Like the Dietz play, “The Mousetrap” deals in a cluster of characters who aren’t who they first seem to be. But the characters in “The Mousetrap” are colorful and the plot is filled with atmosphere and deft misdirection. “How a Boy Falls” mostly just offers perplexity. And the play’s title is a pun on the storyline that doesn’t work.
“How a Boy Falls” gets a rating of.
“How a Boy Falls” runs through February 29 at the Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard. Performances are Wednesday at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 to $89. Call 847 (673)-6300 or visit northlight.org.