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BWW Review: RAIN FALLS SPECIAL ON ME at Ground Floor Theatre

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World premiere exposes the complex lives being lived just outside your door

BWW Review: RAIN FALLS SPECIAL ON ME at Ground Floor Theatre
Photo Credit: Cindy Elizabeth

RAIN FALLS SPECIAL ON ME, a brand new work being mounted for the next few weeks at the eastside au courant powerhouse Ground Floor Theatre, has delivered us the most fragile and complex insight into the vivid lives being lived all around our homes and workplaces by Austin's unhoused population. Through their own words and stories, the audience learns of the daily comings, goings and attempted "stayings" of six associated yet dissimilar human characters and one canine character, all residing in the outdoor spaces of Austin.

The meaningful weight of the subject matter in general, along with the frangible, true-to-life, and often dissociated poeticism playwright Lane Michael Stanley imbues these characters with through their dialogue is a rough weft to pass through an audience with just a few hours. However, Director Patti Neff-Tiven is no stranger to weaving compounded tapestries that wrap the audience up in the familiarity and relatability of the characters on stage. She and Stanley have lain for us a rough spun but inviting rug over unforgiving concrete that invites us in for what little warmth is on offer, never letting us forget that all comforts are only temporary. Shades, one character reminds us later, wait in the cracks of our urban illusion to unseat us if we slip up, lose sight of what we truly value or have just one very bad day.


We're immediately immersed in the world of the work because we just walked past it to get into the theatre. The entirety of the onstage action occurs on a loading dock just outside of the theatre, meticulously recreated by Set Designer Gary Thornsberry, strewn with cast off foam, buckets, reusable bags from HEB and other detritus all in front of a looming Austin skyline cut from corrugated sheet metal and spray painted with apropos phrases like "Wake Up" "I'm Here" and the almost sarcastic "Keep Austin Weird". The set is literally dripping (a portent of a fantastic special effect at the climax!) with the authenticity of an outdoor dock being lived on. Bathed in Lighting Designer Jacqueline Sindelar's layered warm and dingy light of a hot, smoggy Austin day with a storm in the wind we find Mikey, our central character played cannily and warmly by Stan McDowell. Though seated in a wheelchair throughout, McDowell still seems to strut about the loading dock where Mikey resides with the assured tenacity of an old lion, circling the bounds of its chosen domain listening to the ever present traffic, birdsong and metropolitan hum of a bustling city district on the rise, here expertly crafted by Sound Designer Anthony Williams. "The knee knows" he says, noting how an old injury can sense the pressure changes in the air from the coming storm. A storm is coming, literally and metaphorically as it drives the cavalcade of other local unhoused individuals, each clad in the dirty motley of mismatched, ill-fitting but never ragged clothing curated by Costume Designer Laura Gonzalez, to Mikey's haven from the rain, where their conflicting personalities and perspectives crash like thunder over Mikey's calm, collected world.

Photo Credit: Cindy Elizabeth
Photo Credit: Cindy Elizabeth

First we meet Snake, a gruff and prickly former convict released on probation by the state after the cost of his medical care was deemed too high subsidize. Steve Zapata shows us Snake has constructed his spiky persona as a reaction to a lifetime of being treated as disposable, but there is a subdued tenderness for his compatriots and individuals impacted especially hard by their living situation. We are then Joined by Roscoe a sweet and stoic Chihuahua mix (Bruiser) doing his very best to look after his human, Miss Candance (Meredith O'Brien) who is suffering from dissociation and a mental illness that makes it difficult to discern reality from memory or vivid hallucination without intervention from Mikey or utilizing Roscoe as a grounding mechanism to the present. If Mikey, central to the audience and friend/confidant to each character can be viewed as the soul of the piece, it is Miss Candace who is the heart. Her optimism winning out over paranoia or fear most of the time and it's through her dialogue that Stanley is most poetic and, subtly, prophetic. The levity and wit of the show, however, live in the character of Motor, a young queer activist portrayed with an almost irritating amount of charm by Jack Darling. Motor is brash, overtly sexual, and selfish but paradoxically driven by raising awareness of the plight of the unhoused being raided and relocated by city officials and the police as well as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, calling particular attention to the killing of Landon Nobles by Austin Police officers in May of 2017. Motor is frustratingly likeable, like a Shakespearean jester speaking the truths that must be spoken regardless of the consequences for anyone else. Mac (Devin Finn) is a relative newcomer to the area and the most overtly dangerous character. A former marine suffering from PTSD, we also learn that he was discharged for assault and recently attacked a group of white supremacist drug dealers by setting them on fire. Mac inflicts violence on the world around him because it is the only solution he was ever taught and he actively rejects self-improvement in search of finding a worthy cause to fight and ultimately die in service of. Which finally brings us to Julie (Juleeane Villareal), the youngest of our characters and a meth addict. She is a heartbreaking figure engaging in sex work at the behest of the gang of white supremacists in exchange for feeding her addiction. Unlike most of the other characters, she does have a house to return to if she chooses but making that choice requires her to be tolerant of a horrifying situation of physical abuse and emotional trauma.

BWW Review: RAIN FALLS SPECIAL ON ME at Ground Floor Theatre
Photo Credit: Cindy Elizabeth

It is through Julie and many of the other characters that we see there are opportunities available to become housed for many of them but that in making that choice they become trapped in another way. It illustrates the central crux of the piece: the reasoning behind why an individual would not try or stop trying to get housed. These reasons are hardly ever as simple as just access or affordability, but often times represent a betrayal to the self and burden that simply cannot be borne as easily as life lived out where the rain falls the same on everyone.

RAIN FALLS SPECIAL ON ME

By Lane Michael Stanley

Ground Floor Theatre

Aug 26 - Sept 3 at 8:00pm

Running Time: 2 hours with 1 Intermission

Tickets: $25, $40 VIP and Pay-What-You-Can

groundfloortheatre.org


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