Things Fall Apart

16. February, 2011 Theater No comments

Some days it’s all you can do just to hold it together, and sometimes every day is like that. That’s the feeling one gets from Minneapolis playwright Allison Moore’s latest comedy, Collapse, which plays Aurora Theatre in a National New Play Network rolling world premiere that will subsequently play Curious Theatre in Denver and Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas in different productions. Collapse was one of the plays read last season as one of the finalists in Aurora’s Global Age Project new works initiative, and is the second GAP play to go on to a main stage production at the theater.

Carrie Paff and Aldo Billingslea in Collapse. Photo by David Allen.

Minneapolis married couple Hannah and David are stressed out. They’re trying to have a baby, and the play opens with David having to give Hannah a shot of hormones. Hannah’s worried that she may lose her job at a law firm, and she’s more worried about the fact that David hasn’t gone in to work in weeks, just moping around the house, drinking beer and nursing his ulcer instead. She keeps trying to get him to go to a support group, but he won’t go. In the midst of all that, Hannah’s sister Susan shows up from California unexpectedly, cheerily announcing that she’s lost her job and her apartment back home and plans to stay a while.

But really, that’s just the setup, and things escalate from there. Susan, who lives in the moment and doesn’t think things through, has brought some potentially big trouble with her; whatever’s going on with David comes to a head; and Hannah, somehow talked into going to the group instead of David, can’t find it and gets chatted up by Ted, a friendly sex addict from a neighboring support group.

Director Jessica Heidt’s production is particularly strong, anchored by Carrie Paff’s touching portrayal of a strong but anxious woman at the end of her rope as Hannah, trying to hold everything together for everyone. Hunched and wincing with stress, Gabriel Marin gives a nicely understated sense of quiet disgruntlement and building tension as David.  Aldo Billingslea is charmingly insinuating as Ted, while also giving that slightly stifling sense of someone who’s coming on way too strong. Amy Resnick is hilarious as the chatty, animated Susan, who manages to be persuasive even when you know what she’s saying is crazy talk.

The light piano jazz in Will McCandless’s sound design is a little cloying, but Melpomene Katakalos’s set is terrific, with a realistic stretch of bridge looming over the simple living room setup below. We’ll visit the bridge before the play’s done, but just having it there hanging over the characters feels especially appropriate, as we eventually discover that David survived the collapse of that bridge (a real event that happened in 2007) and is still suffering from post-traumatic stress. It’s hanging over him all the time.

The 80-minute play has some amusing upturning of expectations (all the more so because it seems deceptively predictable beforehand), but it’s basically a simple story that has the feel of a television sitcom, albeit a pretty good one. It’s certainly more sympathetic than other plays about marital stresses I’ve seen lately, such as Lucinda Coxon’s Happy Now? It’s also more fully fleshed out and satisfying than Moore’s last play in the Bay Area, last year’s amusing Slasher at SF Playhouse. It’s not the most groundbreaking or memorable play by any means, but it’s a satisfying bit of light entertainment (though by no means always upbeat), and sometimes that’s just what you need—especially on those days when it all seems like too much.

Through March 6
Aurora Theatre Company
2081 Addison St.
Berkeley, CA

Show #12 of 2011, attended February 5.

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