Freefall

The plot of Charles Smith's "Freefall" is nothing special. After five years in prison, Monk (John Bentley), a thief, shows up on the doorstep of his brother Grant (Terry Bellamy) to reconnect, in his awkward way. Trouble is, Grant is the cop who put Monk in the slammer, so the boys have a few differences to work out. Meanwhile, Grant's wife, Alex (Marvette Knight), wants to visit her folks for Christmas and is upset that her husband is preoccupied with Monk, whom Grant knows is sleeping on the street and is one snort away from backsliding into drugs and, ultimately, prison.

With:
Cast: Marvette Knight (Alex). Terry Bellamy (Grant), John Bentley (Monk), Alexander Brooks Parker (Spoon).

The plot of Charles Smith’s “Freefall” is nothing special. After five years in prison, Monk (John Bentley), a thief, shows up on the doorstep of his brother Grant (Terry Bellamy) to reconnect, in his awkward way. Trouble is, Grant is the cop who put Monk in the slammer, so the boys have a few differences to work out. Meanwhile, Grant’s wife, Alex (Marvette Knight), wants to visit her folks for Christmas and is upset that her husband is preoccupied with Monk, whom Grant knows is sleeping on the street and is one snort away from backsliding into drugs and, ultimately, prison.

The style of the play is as straiight forward as they come. It takes place in Grant and Alex’s living room and never once deviates from the cookiecutter confines of drawing-room realism. Fortunately, “Freefall” is saved from descending into hackneyed bell by its characters, who are deeply and complexly bound by a Gordian knot of pain, guilt, remorse, regret, love, anger, denial, grief and resentment. As sibling rivalries go, Monk and Grant’s is a doozy, and the cast does a remarkable job of carving out the tense emotional territory between them.

As Grant, Bellamy seethes beneath an implacable facade, communicating in no uncertain terms that if he ever allows his voice to rise above a tortured whisper, someone is going to get hurt. Likewise, Bentley, as Monk makes his character walk a delicate line. It’s difficult to guess what Monk is thinking or what he might do, which lends his onstage presence a dangerous edge even when he’s trying to be nice.

Knight, as Alex, is the woman caught between these two homicidally stubborn men, and she, of course, is the one who must convince them to do the civilized thing and talk out their differences. Knight is extraordinary as the indignant wife with spitfire sensibilities.

Aside from good acting and a better than average script, “Freefall” also features some interesting meditations on the idea of home as it relates to the criminal underclass. Upon his release from prison, Monk is thrown into the world essentially homeless, and at one point almost rationalizes a return to dealing drugs by reasoning that for people like him, prison isn’t so bad: The walls offer security and keep the elements at bay; the meals are regular and free; there is always a place to sleep and people to talk to; and library privileges help pass the time in a constructive manner.

In the outside world, Monk must fend for himself, and is forced by a dealer named Spoon (played by the deliciously sinister Alexander Brooks Parker) to choose between “the brotherhood” and his brother. For a price, the brotherhood offers protection and money and a sense of belonging — all attributes of home. The love is hardly unconditional, though. And what Monk is looking for and has always lacked is a home in the sense of a social safety net, a place where people will catch him no matter how fast or far he is falling (hence the play’s title).

While the story would probably make a lousy television show and a worse movie , it is in fact a taut emotional drama, rising above its not-so-promising origins to deliver a surprisingly effective emotional wallop. The method by which this is achieved is relentlessly conventional, but crisp, sensitive directing by Jacqueline Moscou brings everything to a compelling, tearful climax — home, so to speak.

Freefall

Production: ST. PAUL, Minn. A Penumbra Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Charles Smith. Directed by Jacqueline Moscon.

Crew: Set, Gregory Ray; costumes. Vernis Flower; lighting, Mike Wangen; sound, Aaron Bellamy; stage manager, Jan Denfeld; producer, Lou Bellamy. Opened, reviewed, Jan. 25, 1996, at Penumbra Theater; 350 seats; $ 17 top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

With: Cast: Marvette Knight (Alex). Terry Bellamy (Grant), John Bentley (Monk), Alexander Brooks Parker (Spoon).

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