Review: ‘Falling Upward’

Ray Bradbury's tale captures the colorful interaction of a village's menfolk in their favorite pub, happily quaffing their brew while inventing meaning for themselves where there is none.

That grand master of science fiction, Ray Bradbury, was inspired to create this “comedic Irish fable” during the year he spent in Ireland penning the screen adaptation of “Moby Dick” for John Huston back in 1953. Bradbury’s tale captures the colorful interaction of a village’s menfolk in their favorite pub, happily quaffing their brew while inventing meaning for themselves where there is none.

The Theater West ensemble, under Charles Rome Smith’s overly relaxed, undernourished staging, never quite evokes the spontaneous energy of these hard-drinking comrades who create monumental scenarios out of the most trivial stimuli. Yet the production achieves a low-key charm of its own, due mainly to the narrative skills of Greg Mullavey as Garrity the village sage and to Steve Nevil’s delicate portrayal of mysterious tourist David Snell-Orkney.

Set primarily in Heeber Finn’s Pub (realistically wrought by J.M Altadonna) in Kilcock, a village west of Dublin, Bradbury’s yarn never pretends to be more than a loving look at the interdependence of simple but hearty souls whose true lives begin at opening time and end when barkeep Finn (Barry Lynch) utters the sadly final “Closing time, gentlemen.” From their alcohol-livened imaginations come schemes, plots and shenanigans that are as invigorating as they are ephemeral. As Garrity wisely expounds, “Ah, the Irish. From so little, we glean so much. We call it falling upward.”

There is a tentativeness to the ensemble that belies the roguish gab and harmless tomfoolery that fill the characters’ nights. Smith never achieves the sweep of chaotic energy that should permeate the deeds and misdeeds of these Celtic townsfolk, whether it be the comical aftermath of a collision of bicycles, the ingenious manipulation of a dead man’s will in order to inherit his supply of fine wine or the posting of a guard to watch for the constable in order to lengthen their time at the pub.

Mullavey’s Garrity, however, pulls it all together as narrator, seamlessly moving in and out of the action to expound, philosophize and generally coordinate the actions of his thoroughly malleable pals. It is he who sees the significance in the arrival of a quintet of effete, white-clad tourists from Sicily, led by Nevil’s thoroughly aesthetic Snell-Orkney.

It is delicious to watch the dark-clad pub lads actually unite with the strangers to support the efforts of quick-footed Doone (Abbott Alexander) as he participates in the Anthem Sprint, a hilarious race from the first row of the local moviehouse to the exit at the end of the last feature in order to escape having to stand for the playing of the national anthem. Another highlight is the high tenor singing of “Mother Macree” by one of the Sicilian chums (Edward Alvarado) as the locals practically sob in their brews.

Lending a strong air of Gaelic authenticity to the proceedings is Celtic Arts Center artistic director Barry Lynch’s portrayal of the gruff but ever-patient Heeber Finn. Also noteworthy is Christopher Thomas’ wizened vet turned bicycle crash physician.

Admirably supporting Altadonna’s impressive pub setting are the mood-enhancing lighting of Peter Strauss and the period-correct costumes of Smith.

Falling Upward

Theater West; 168 seats; $25 top

Production

A Theater West presentation, in association with Pandemonium Theater Co., of a play in one act by Ray Bradbury. Directed by Charles Rome Smith.

Creative

Sets, J.M. Altadonna; costumes, Smith; lights, Peter Strauss; sound, Dan O'Connell, Suzzy London. Opened Sept. 13, 2001; reviewed Sept. 21; runs through Oct. 14. Running time: 80 MIN.

Cast

Garrity - Greg Mullavey
Finn - Barry Lynch
David Snell-Orkney - Steve Nevil
Doone - Abbott Alexander
Father Leary - Walter Beery
Timulty - David Evans Brandt
Hanrahan - William Brunold
O'Gavin - Johnny Creech
Officer Bannion - Flynn Falcone
Kilpatrick - Doug Haverty
Nolan - Matthew Hoffman
Patrick Maguire - Jack Kutcher
Doc - Christopher Thomas
Clement - Philip Sokoloff
Sicilian Chums - Edward Alvarado, Chris Carver, Peter Maloney, Christopher Reeve
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