by Michael Angerer
As you step into the small dark space of the Burton Taylor Studio to watch Selma Dimitrijevic’s Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone, you enter a strangely surreal place: a place in which all eyes rest on two similar figures who sit facing each other, silently staring each other down. The title of this 45-minute, two-hand play, a quote from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, refers to the child’s realisation that parents are not perfect: and this series of confrontations between a long-suffering daughter and her neurotic mother, often so depressingly banal, will keep you absorbed till the bitter end.
Superficially at least, the plot of this short play is not – indeed, cannot be – very complicated: Annie (Nancy Case) is visiting her mother (Lara Deering); long-running tensions are unearthed as the conversation moves from the weather to the absent father, Annie’s boyfriend, and the mother’s illness. What makes the play truly interesting is that this same conversational pattern is then repeated three times, but each time with important variations. The lights dim as the mother clutches her teacup – ‘No, I’m not done with this’ – and as they turn back on, in comes Annie for another round; this downwards spiral of violent reactions, which sees Annie slowly starting to resist her mother’s probing, leads to the inevitable and yet surprisingly soft breaking point.
With only two actors onstage, the Burton Taylor Studio is the ideal venue for the play; the proximity to the actors makes it possible to appreciate the subtle gestures, like the mother’s fidgeting, that draw you into the story. So much depends on body language and facial expressions as the two women sit on their chairs opposite each other, or pace around in circles, chasing one another or drawing back; and it is a pleasure to watch Nancy Case’s harried expression as Lara Deering goes from a concerned look to a manic laugh and a frozen smile, both pathetic and frightening. The play is short enough that at no point do they seem to struggle to hold the audience’s entire attention.
Director Cesca Echlin keeps the stage as empty as possible. With only two folding chairs for the two actors, the stage becomes an undefined room that only exists for this conversation. We are left alone with this repeated delving into mother-daughter relations that is each time accentuated by subtle changes in lighting and rounded off with simple musical tracks; here we can witness the unfolding of selfishness, clashing views of the world, and, at the end, perhaps some measure of understanding.
It is perhaps fair to say that the relatively short length of 45 minutes, along with a very narrow focus and bare set, makes it fairly easy to produce a play that remains clear and entertaining throughout; but Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone is produced flawlessly and convincingly, with excellent performances by both actors, and is justly deserving of praise. These four linked vignettes may not fill a whole evening, but they tell a story that keeps you thinking beyond the short while spent looking at two women arguing onstage; and that is a story well worth watching. Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone is running at the Burton Taylor Studio every day till Saturday 2 February at 9.30pm.
Photograph by Antonio Perricone