by Rose Desena
Few playwrights have attempted to tackle this topic. It’s inspiring, frustrating, educational, alarming, and heartbreaking. At the same time, it’s exactly the kind of thought provoking theatre that keeps us coming back for more of what Rogue Machine has to offer.
Writer Deanna Jent created “Falling” from a deep and very personal experience with family, and the challenges of raising her autistic son. Developed at Mustard Seed Theatre in St Louis, the play garnered a Kevin Kline Award for “Outstanding New Play,” was discovered by Tony Award winning producer Terry Schnuck, and moved to New York to much critical acclaim.
“It’s so complicated and messy; if there was an easy answer, people would have figured it out a long time ago. But whatever the challenge of going through that emotional journey is, it is completely countered by the joy of sharing this story and of telling this truth” says Jent.
Now, “Falling” makes its West Coast debut at Rogue Machine. This company was just nominated for 11 more Ovation Awards, after winning upwards of 50 awards (including Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, Ovation, Garland, and BEST PRODUCTION two years in a row) since its founding season in 2008, the troupe was lauded as “Best Theatre Company of 2012” by the LA Weekly.
The cast appears to be a “dream team” which includes Anna Khaja (Ovation Award-Lead Actress, LA Weekly Award-Best Actress), Matthew Elkins (LA Weekly nomination-Best Actor), Karen Landry (Atlantic City Film Fest Award-Best Actress), Matt Little (Ava Greewald Award, James and Nony Doolittle Award, Staley Musgrove Award, and the Jack Nicholson Award), and Tara Windley (StageSceneLA Award-Best Featured Actress), helmed by multi-award winning Director Elina de Santos (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, LA Weekly Award-Best Direction, and Los Angeles Drama Critic Circle’s Katselas Career Achievement Award in Directing).
I was very curious about the process in creating such a truthful story, and how the playwright worked to put enough distance between her personal experience so as not to have it take an emotional toll. I asked Deanna Jent a few questions about her journey through the process, and to tell us a little about the play.
Rose: What started the process for you to write this play, and did you think of it as therapeutic?
Deanna: Writing is how I process the world. After a very difficult summer, when we felt like we were in a war zone every day, I started writing about it. I wrote scenes; I wrote down what had happened. I didn’t know if it was therapeutic, or what. So I took [what I had written] to a colleague who is a poet, and I asked him, “What am I doing here?” And he said, “I think this needs to be a play.” And I said, “Well, this can’t be a play, it’s my life!” But he challenged me to think, “What if?” And I took the challenge. I decided that what I wanted to do was to somehow create in the audience the experience of having the floor drop out of your world. It’s the experience I’ve had when, for example, I’m walking into a faculty meeting and I get a phone call and it’s the police, saying, you have to come and pick [your son] up, because he attacked somebody on the bus today.
Every day, I ask, “Is this gonna be a good day?” [Living with my son’s behavior] means walking on eggshells, being on alert. Even when there’s a “cease fire,” it’s still a war zone. And we’re taking the audience on the ride with us through this day.
Rose: It has been several years since you wrote “Falling.” How is your son doing today?
Deanna: He’s 19 now and more in control of his emotions. It helps that he’s beyond puberty and the throes of hormonal imbalances. He’s in his final year of high school, and will move into a day habilitation program after that.
At home with us, he’s the happiest guy in the world as long as the world revolves around him. (Aren’t we all?) He loves his videos, He loves having life all arranged. I love that he knows calendar stuff; he understands and remembers things on the calendar. For example, one year, on Labor Day, I took him on a train ride. The next year, two months away from Labor Day, he looked on the calendar and said, “Train ride!”
Rose: Were there any re-writes for the Rogue Machine production, and if so, please explain?
Deanna: There were no re-writes
Rose: What do you hope for audiences to take home from the experience of seeing your play?
Deanna: The thing that I’ve realized is that, even though I wrote a play about a very specific family, the play is really about loving someone who’s hard to love. And that’s a universal thing; we all have that in our families somewhere. It might be us! Whether it’s a personality thing or illness or addiction or aging, it’s about how we handle the situations of caring for and loving someone who’s hard to love. That’s a crisis that I think everyone’s heart can empathize with. And the theater can bring us all together and tell us stories that show us we’re not alone.
Rose: I can agree, as someone who deals with an aging parent, it’s all about your willingness to accept and move through. About inner strength. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Deanna: The character of the mother in the play makes a statement that is very true for me: “My relationship with God isn’t conditional — it’s just complicated.” I am on a faith journey that includes detours, bumps in the roads, and some wonderful destinations. The thing I love about theatre is that it’s about asking questions, not about knowing the answers — and my spiritual life is very much like theatre in that way!
“Falling” is an 80-minute play by Deanna Jent—the Artistic Director of Mustard Seed Theatre in St. Louis and a Professor of Theatre at Fontbonne University. Deanna has been nominated five times for the Kevin Kline “Best Director” Award and won the Best Director of a Musical for her 2011 production of “Godspell.”
FALLING opens on Saturday, October 12, 2013 and runs at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm Sundays through December 1, 2013. A special “Speaker Series” runs directly following Sunday performances from Oct 13th – Nov 10th. And will feature the playwright, Deanna Jent on the 13th. On October 20th, Elaine Hall (Founder) from The Miracle Project will speak. Rogue Machine is located at 5041 Pico Blvd., LA, CA 90019. Tickets are $30. Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com