Theater review: ‘The Fall to Earth’ at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble


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The cozy hotel suite in “The Fall to Earth” makes you want to take off your shoes and order room service. But don’t get too comfortable: Playwright Joel Drake Johnson and the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble aren’t heeding that “Do Not Disturb” sign in this taut, claustrophobic psychodrama.

Fay (JoBeth Williams) and her successful daughter, Rachel (Deborah Puette), arrive in a small town for an unnamed errand. As they bicker, the impetus for their visit emerges: Fay’s troubled gay son, Kenny (Ian Littleworth), who has cut off contact with his parents. As Kenny’s dark history emerges, the family’s secrets begin to crack open.


The show’s collaborators achieve real chemistry here. Robin Larsen’s sharp direction, Tom Buderwitz’s set, John Zalewski’s sound design, and Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting all combine to cast an eerie spell. Inexorably, this anonymous hotel room becomes a haunted house: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

As a kind of Medea dressed in JCPenney, Williams brings warmth and immediacy -- along with her demons -- while Puette signals years of pain with a mere tightening of the lip. And the ever-reliable Ann Noble finds the unruly edges of her “Fargo”-esque small-town cop.

Two years ago, Larsen and Rogue Machine Theatre gave us Johnson’s harrowing “Four Places,” the story of adult children wrestling to accept the complexity of their parents. “Fall” is an earlier play; its hairpin turns feel less organic and therefore less credible. Nevertheless, the production offers an occasion for its predominantly female creative team, led by Larsen, Williams and co-producer Roxanne Hart, to unleash their vivid talents. ALSO:

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-- Charlotte Stoudt

“The Fall to Earth,” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. See website for schedule. Ends April 1. $25 and $30. (310) 477-2055 or Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.