The Fall to Earth, a new full-length play by playwright Joel Drake Johnson, opens to the stark furnishings of a motel room—the king-sized bed, the requisite desk and bureau with a standard TV, and the typical trappings of an anonymous room waiting to be filled. Only the crimson and black color scheme suggests that a darker purpose waits in the wings. Then a scrambling outside the door, two women fighting and fumbling over the card key in tragicomic fashion, until they come stumbling into the room.

In just a matter of seconds, the audience knows–in the arrival of Fay the mother, played to perfection by Deborah Hedwall, and Jolie Curtsinger, as her daughter Rachel–that for the next 95, uninterrupted minutes, they are in for a fasten-your-seat-belts hell of a ride.

Fay and Rachel have come to this unidentifiable town to claim the body of Fay’s son, Kenny, and try through the aid of Terry, a local policewoman, to understand the whys and wherefores of his tragic demise. It becomes clear from the outset that his death is probably the only thing that connects mother and daughter, as whatever umbilical cord that once existed, has long ago been ripped to shreds. The policewoman, who discovered the body, offers what consolation she can, but just when it seems she’s succeeded, she’s brought back down to earth by Fay’s brutal rebuffs. There are dark secrets afoot, some only hinted at, some lain bare in all their gory detail. No one in this writer’s hands escapes the truth.

The only question left for the audience is in the resolution or non-resolution of the story itself. In the end, the dead son seems more of a device to bring these three together, rather than a fully realized (though absent) character. What future, if any, exists for Fay and Rachel outside their motel room is anybody’s guess. And Fay questions everything, from her fear of flying—“I wonder if you can cling to one another as you get thrown through the air and fall down to earth?”—to how much mileage Rachel has on her car. She sees trees and mountains beyond the parking lot from the motel window and wonders if they can go to “the other side.” This is ultimately a play of questions without answers. Fortunately, Johnson’s strength in creating memorable characters may be enough.

InProximity Theatre Company’s co-founder, Curtsinger (who also plays the daughter in this production), described the whole enterprise as a “labor of love.” An associate had seen the first Steppenwolf production and had also studied with Johnson, the Chicago-based playwright. Though this is the first time Curtsinger has worked with director Joe Brancato, he had directed a prior version of the play at the Penguin Theatre, and was a strong advocate of the script. She emphasized that the company is a “tightly-knit ensemble of 13,” and with a play “so demanding on everyone involved, creating a comfort zone was what [they] all wanted.”

It’s little wonder that cast and crew would seek whatever comfort they could, given the hair-raising confrontations between the three players. All of them, according to Curtsinger, are trying their best on the surface to survive, but are ready to crack open at any second.

The playwright has a fine-tuned ear for dialogue—the kind of teasing yet treacherous banter that ricochets off the walls—and Hedwall as the mother plays every note: one second a cloyingly sweet stanza, the next a screaming crescendo of rage. Curtsinger’s daughter is an embittered, caustic role to play, but she does her level best to keep her wits amidst the fray. Reprising the role of the police investigator, Amelia Campbell is a quirky, at times even lovable, officer of the law until she is literally pushed and pinched into revealing another more fragile side of herself.

Set designer James J. Fenton has been with the company since its inception, and even with what could have been a challenging transition from motel to morgue and back again, it’s a seamless enterprise. He has managed to deftly create an almost airless atmosphere, a “no-exit” landscape for the three performers. Even the doors—to closets, a bathroom, and a hallway—aren’t really “exits” at all. When Fay tries to open the fourth, it simply reveals a locked door to an adjacent room. And the one window that she peers out of, in hopes of getting to “the other side,” may as well be an illusion. For Fay, there’s no way out that won’t lead her back to her own sorry self.

The Fall to Earth received its world premiere at the famed Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in 2004, and after a subsequent production in 2008 by the Penguin Theatre, the InProximity Theatre Company has brought it to New York’s 59E59 Theatres for a limited run until February 5th. There are no immediate future plans for the play, but in Curtsinger’s words: “anything is possible.”

With this production, InProximity Theatre is dead center and definitely a company to watch.

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