It’s a setup for farce: In the wake of America’s financial and emotional collapse of 2007, Hannah (Rebecca Lingafelter), a tightly wound lawyer, desperately tries to stay in control despite a series of increasingly absurd challenges—her husband is watering the houseplants with beer, her sister has started casually running drugs, she’s shot full of fertility hormones and her only confidant is a stranger she meets outside a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting on which she was inadvertently eavesdropping. Given Third Rail’s predilection for door-slamming, we expect the story to escalate, growing louder and sillier until it implodes in a cloud of improbable coincidences.
But doors are not slammed. Playwright Allison Moore seems less interested in dramatic silliness than in the more mundane absurdity of living: In the end, we control nothing; entropy will always win. And so everything in the play collapses, from Minneapolis’ Mississippi bridge, fallen pieces of which compose Larry Larsen’s rubbly scenic design, to the story itself. Collapse is a drama of disappointed expectations, in which seemingly important coincidences turn out to be meaningless, and the anticipated madcap climax is dealt with quietly, offstage. Things fall apart—just deal with it.
Moore’s ingenious refusal to play by the assumed rules lends emotional weight to what might have otherwise been a trite tearjerker and gives its performers permission to avoid the usual clichés of disaster dramas. Jim Iorio neither mopes about the stage nor throws dishes as Hannah’s traumatized husband. Instead he moves constantly and anxiously, unable to rid himself of the shame and confusion of his own inability to cross a bridge or step in an elevator after falling into the Mississippi. He tries to laugh it off, but we can see the pain through his forced smile. Lingafelter plays Hannah as a frayed bundle of nerves, keeping her grip on civility with a tight hair clip. Watching her composure unravel is crushing, at least when you can see it—director Slayden Scott Yarbrough’s in-the-round staging makes for an intimate but sometimes frustrating view from Row A. Better to take a seat in the balcony—like any major collapse, this one may be best experienced from a safe distance.
SEE IT: Winningstad Theatre, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, 800-982-2787, thirdrailrep.org. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Through Jan. 29. $29.50-$38.50, $14.50 students.