BWW Review: Noah Haidle's SMOKEFALL Is Unfathomably Whimsical
That slip of paper tucked into your Playbill at the Lortel these days is not there to tell you an understudy is going on. It's your required pre-show reading; a snippet of T.S. Eliot's "The Four Quartets" with the title of Noah Haidle's play, Smokefall, printed in bold letters.
But perhaps a better symbol of what you're in for can be seen by looking up at the stage and noting that much of designer Mimi Lien's set is made up of exposed particle board; random pieces of wood chips and shavings forced together through compression to form a unit that serves its purpose if you don't require anything particularly strong or attractive.
The least entertaining dysfunctional family to grace a New York stage in recent memory is headed by the nurturing Violet (Robin Tunney), who appears to already be homeschooling her soon-to-be-born twins. "Do you know what a family is?," she asks the internally protruding pair. Her mentally deteriorating father, known as The Colonel (Tom Bloom), still puts on his dress uniform every day and her daughter, named Beauty (Taylor Richardson) decided years ago that she had nothing more to say and has remained silent ever since, drinking paint to wash down her meals of dirt and tree bark.
Violet's out-of-it husband, Daniel (Brian Hutchison), is about to run out on her. We know this because Zachary Quinto plays a character named Footnote, who stands at the side and fills us in on all the details that might otherwise be communicated through dialogue.
The attempted whimsy actually hits its bullseye in the second scene, which has Quinto and Hutchison playing the unborn pair in Violet's womb going over last-minute details before making their exits. The cleverness of their banter coupled with a poignant finish makes for an optimistic intermission.
No luck. Act two picks up decades later with Bloom playing one of the buddies we met in scene two. Richardson is now an elderly Beauty who is talking again and hasn't aged a bit, and Quinto... well, at least he's stopped footnoting.
Vague symbolism is supplied by an apple tree and a jigsaw puzzle and a couple more bars of someone singing "Send In The Clowns" might justify slipping Stephen Sondheim a few royalty bucks.
Despite the sloggy script, director Anne Kauffman puts up a solid production delivered by a fine ensemble. Sadly, their efforts go into a piece that is seemingly unfathomable.