THE FALL by Greg Nelson, directed by Jennifer Tarver (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). To April 27. Pwyc-$32. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN
Politics is in the zeitgeist. This season’s high-profile plays like Stuff Happens, Palace Of The End and Democracy have illuminated world events with eye-popping, mind-expanding results, while next month’s local professional premiere of My Name Is Rachel Corrie is on the must-see lists of people who, quite frankly, usually don’t go to the theatre.
Compared to these plays, Greg Nelson’s The Fall feels slightly underwhelming, and not just because it’s the only one set in Ottawa. Reworked from its original SummerWorks 2005 production, the 75-minute two-hander imagines a scandal surrounding the signing of Canada’s Charter Of Rights And Freedoms.
This rather implausible controversy includes the basic elements from any Law & Order rerun: prostitution, kickbacks, threats and some media muzzling. But the play is essentially a series of exchanges on that age-old theme, whether the end justifies the means.
The day after fictional Supreme Court judge and constitution bigwig Harry McKay’s funeral, politics professor Kate (Sarah Dodd) confronts Harry’s son David (Ashley Wright) for a book she’s writing on the man. Turns out Harry was contacted a couple of decades earlier by a journalist named Jane who had uncovered some shady shenanigans by Canada’s then minister of justice. Harry managed to cover up the story for the good of the country. Now Kate’s holding the proof.
What makes the production watchable is Nelson’s doubling up on roles. Dodd plays both the professor and the journalist, while Wright switches between the old man and his son. The actors, helped out by Kimberly Purtell’s subtle lighting changes, grip us with their characterizations, believable in their power shifts.
Director Jennifer Tarver and designer Kelly Wolf seat the audience on either side of a long rectangular boardroom table, making us eavesdroppers on private conversations. While it’s not up to her high standards, Tarver creates moment-by-moment tension that seldom wavers.
The problem lies in Nelson’s script, which betrays his experience in radio drama and skimps on personal backstory for the sake of what he thinks is a capital-S Serious Issue play.