BWW Review: Intimate TO FALL IN LOVE Makes Midwest Premiere at The Constructivists
Milwaukeeans agree that what's left of Grand Avenue Mall is decrepit at best. Who knows if and/or when the vibe of this shell of a once-splendid shopping center will change. In the meantime, some grand little things do still happen just one floor below the stubborn T.J. Maxx. In the mall's lowest level lies a black box performance space: the Underground Collaborative. It's there that The Constructivists theater company, under the direction of Jaimelyn Gray, performs its intimate, affecting works.
To Fall In Love, a Midwest premiere by playwright Jennifer Lane, gradually immerses the audience into the world of Merryn and Wyatt. The house lights are still fully bright as Wyatt begins to anxiously flit about the set, fluffing sofa pillows and dipping in and out of the fridge. It's as if we're all flies on the wall of his living room, the play action starting right under our collective nose.
When the doorbell rings, it's Merryn. She's also anxious. If you don't read the marketing materials beforehand, like my play date, you might enjoy the guessing game at the onset: How do these characters know each other? What's their history? How far back do they go? What seems to be the problem?
To not give away too much, To Fall In Love is, in short, about psychologist Arthur Aron's famous study that suggested a couple might ask each other 36 questions in order to fall in love. The questions grow increasingly intimate, beginning with "Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?" The exercise ends not with a question, but with four full minutes of direct eye contact with your partner. And yes, To Fall In Love goes there. All the way there. Right down to those four full minutes.
Through the course of this hour and fifteen-minute play, we see our central couple as if we are watching them in real time. Both characters are wonderfully rendered - Madeline Wakely as Merryn and Matthew Scales as Wyatt. As the two work their way through the 36 questions, Wakley and Scales grow increasingly brave. They both hang out in uncomfortable pauses and moments of silence, unrushed. Wakley brings marvelous nuance to her part, her eyes memorably glassy with tears that stay firmly in place. From hesitations to stolen hopeful glances, Wakley's Merynn feels very natural. Scales' Wyatt is convincing in his willingness to fight for love. Together, Wakley and Scales are believeable as two people in need of reconnection. They also tackle on-stage intimacy, in the biblical sense. Again: bravery.
The fun of Lane's script is how it features dialogue that's real and relatable - challenging at times, but also full of humor. With all its references to googling, the Domino's pizza app, and Ben Folds, this is dialogue that will certainly resonate with a portion of the population. Just like Wyatt and Merynn, I'm a 30-something myself, and much of the content felt aimed right at people like me. Mentions of "I heard this thing on NPR," gender reveal parties, and Merynn's answer to "describe your perfect day" involving holding a baby panda - yeah, that's my general demographic. To Fall In Love holds up a mirror; millennials, take a look.
Though light at times, the central figures in To Fall In Love are engaging in the 36 questions to solve a problem. A big problem that shall go unnamed for spoiler's sake. Let's just say this play is an honest portrayal of two people's grief and guilt and the impact that has on their relationship. There are complicated emotions at play, and Scales and Wakley do them justice. When all is said and done, To Fall In Love is about the importance of seeing things through to the very end, for better or worse. Right down to those four final minutes.
One might squirm at the thought of sitting in a silent theater, staring at two actors staring at each other for four full minutes. My nervous anticipation was real, and when the staring finally happened, you could hear every sniffle and throat-clearing in the Underground Collaborative theater. The audience was riveted - or, at least, very respectful to the courage of these two actors. To me, those were some of the most powerful minutes in all of To Fall In Love. When your investment in this couple and their love sneaks up on you, embrace it. Lean in. The reward is worth it.
Catch To Fall In Love through April 13th, 2019.