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Signature Theatre Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill

By • Oct 30th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill by Paul Down Colaizzo
Signature Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA
Through December 8th
100 minutes with one intermission
$47-$89 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed October 26th, 2013

“You are only as sick as your secrets” – or so the saying goes. Applying that bit of ancient wisdom to the farce/drama now premiering at Signature Theatre, I would say that playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo’s characters are sick, sick, sick.

I won’t reveal who’s got what syndrome in Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill. That would deflate Colaizzo’s extended parade of not very shocking or even surprising revelations. But setting aside the question of exactly who is into precisely what, we have … let’s see now … two sorts of eating disorder, sexual abuse, incest, sexual secrecy, urinary incontinence, infidelity, use of a legally controlled mood-changing substance and overuse of a legally sanctioned mood-changing substance — not to mention rampant neediness and frustration, obsessive compulsive disorder and willful destruction of everyday household items including (but not limited to) wallboard and breakfast cereal.

Colaizzo’s dramatic setup is sort of four characters in search of a TV sitcom. It has to be admitted that his writing is witty. It is nearly ready for prime time. His dialogue is packed with insult humor, put downs and snappy comebacks. There are even some refreshingly goofy tossed off remarks. One character, refuting an accusation of financial irresponsibility, alleges that he has “enough money to buy a thousand dogs.”

And there is some agile social satire. A character who is accused of being devoid of empathy retorts that she is “processing” and is “entitled” to her “own feelings.”

This woman’s younger son dismisses his mother’s self-improvement educational efforts as dabbling in a “Googleversity.”

Colaizzo’s characters are, as you may have guessed, cartoonish. There’s the fretful mom, the frustrated dad, the clumsy older son and the seething younger son.

Director Michael Kahn (best known as head of D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company) ekes out welcome hints of character development.

As mom, Christine Lahti evolves from intolerant and severely respectable to somewhat accepting of herself, her family and her neighbors. At the top of the show her vocabulary bristles with unexamined expectations based on “should” and “ought.” It’s as if her family members and her house were fashion accessories acquired to flatter her life ensemble. Eventually, mom’s devotion to appearances withers like the prominently displayed bouquet of flowers from her prize-winning garden.

Wayne Duvall, as dad, goes from the conscientious but emotionally frozen provider stereotype to the tentatively adventurous male menopause stereotype.

As the older son, Christopher McFarland tires of pathetic longing for approval and opts for the sort of self-fulfillment that used to be called “personal bliss.”

Anthony Bowden, as the younger son, starts with habitual petulance. If there’s strawberry ice cream he rages at people’s unfeeling disregard for his loathing of strawberry ice cream. Eventually he sets aside grievance collecting and experiences real grief and real affection.

Getting back to the theory that “you’re only as sick as your secrets,” one might conclude that Colaizzo’s family is all better by the end of Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill. It would seem that they no longer have any secrets. But I wouldn’t bet on their future as wholesome exemplars of mental health and hygiene.

And yet … and yet … I did laugh a lot as mom, dad, older brother and younger brother stumbled and bumbled from denial to cringing to surrender.

As for that clunky title, Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill — it refers to an affluent Atlanta suburb. Colaizzo, who is in his late 20s, actually grew up in an Atlanta suburb called The Falls of Autry Mill. Note the lack of an “e” in that Autry, which distinguishes the actual from the fictional. The real Falls of Autry Mill (judging from its web site) appears to be an array of McMansions selling for just under a million dollars. Several of them are, or have been, in foreclosure.

The setting for Colaizzo’s farcical drama has all the material fixings of the well-known American Dream and most of the defects that precipitate the well-known American Disillusionment. In its jocular way, Autrey Mill updates dour American themes explored by Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill.

Last year Signature Theatre premiered Collaizzo’s tightly focused drama Really Really, which dealt with the tribulations of privileged 20-somethings. It was well-received at Signature and, later, in New York. Really Really, like Autrey Mill, presented the good life as really really not so great.

Cast

  • Carly: Christine Lahti
  • Chad: Anthony Bowden
  • Tommy: Christopher McFarland
  • Louie: Wayne Duvall
  • Understudies
    • Chad: Elliott Kashner
    • Tommy: Tobin Moss

Creative Team

  • Playwright: Paul Owns Colaizzo
  • Director: Michael Kahn
  • Scenic Design: James Noone
  • Costume Design: Frank Labovitz
  • Lighting Design: Andrew Scharwath
  • Sound and Composition Design: Palmer Hefferan
  • New York Casting CSA: Laura Stanczyk
  • Production Stage Manager: Julie Meyer
  • Assistant Direction: Walter Ware II
  • Associate Artistic Director: Matthew Gardiner
  • Director of Production: Michael D. Curry

Disclaimer: Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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