Life Is A Journey, Death A Destination in Failure: A Love Story at MTC
Time marches on for the Fail Sisters – Jenny June (Liz Sklar), Gertrude (Megan Smith) and Nelly (Kathryn Zdan) – with a little musical accompaniment from Mortimer Mortimer (Brian Herndon on trombone) and John N. Fail (Patrick Kelly Jones on snare) in the West Coast premiere of Philip Dawkins’ Failure: A Love Story at Marin Theatre Company.
Rating: (4/5 stars)
1928 is the last year of each of the Fail sisters’ lives. Nelly (Kathryn Zdan) is the first of the Fail girls to die, followed soon after by her sisters Jenny June (Liz Sklar) and Gerty (Megan Pearl Smith). As with so many things in life—blunt objects, disappearances and consumption—they never see death coming. Written by Chicago playwright, Philip Dawkins, Failure: A Love Story is a magical, musical fable that traces the sisters’ triumphs and defeats. Set in a rickety two-story building by the Chicago River that is the Fail family home and clock shop, this funny, moving and profoundly wise play reminds us that in the end, all that remains is love.
Failure: A Love Story is a lighthearted production not withstanding the premature demise of the Fail sisters. Only the two men and their lives survive into old age–John N. Fail (Patrick Kelly Jones) is washed up on shore as a baby and adopted by the Fail’s and Mortimer Mortimer (Brian Herndon), the earnest gentleman caller who loves each of the sisters in turn.
The play opens with the cast inviting the audience to sing-along In the Good Old Summertime and Let Me Call You Sweetheart. A marvelous cast briskly directed by Jasson Minadakis doubles as narrators and the scenes and stories of their past lives are in keeping with what Dawkins calls “the hidden love story of our play, the love of telling stories.” Here the stories include Mortimer Mortimer’s bittersweet, fruitless search for love, the loneliness of his “almost” brother-in-law, John N. Fail, Nelly’s silly but fetching girlishness and Jenny June’s bold optimistic goal of swimming across the rough and heavy waters.
The actors also accompany themselves on a variety of instruments, i.e. ukulele, trombone, stand up bass, drums, piano—as they sing hits of the 1920’s, arranged by Sound Designer, Composer and Music Director Chris Houston.
Other important inanimate characters occupy this household as well –a few birds, a snake named Moses and a dog called Pete. Since the passage of time is the recurrent theme, clocks and timepieces abound with Nina Ball’s effective set design. The lighting by York Kennedy, costumes by Jacqueline Firkins all contribute to a memorable evening whose theme, storytelling–the key to surviving human tragedy–resonates long after the play ends.
Failure: A Love Story runs June 5-June 29, 2014 at Marin Theatre Company with 8 performances a week–Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 7 p.m. with matinees Sunday at 2 p.m. There are special performances Saturday June 28 at 2 p.m. and Thursday June 19 at 1 p.m. All performances are held at 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. For tickets, call 415-388-5208 or go online at www.marintheatre.org.
Coming up next at Marin Theatre Company will be Fetch Clay, Make Man by Will Power and directed by Derrick Sanders (Fences) August 14-September 7, 2014.
Flora Lynn Isaacson