What could go wrong during a sentimental gathering of family and friends at a cozy old inn in Maine? The answer is: plenty, when the family is, as one character remarks, good at putting the “fun in dysfunction.”
Author/director Michael J. Tobin has given his play “Falling Leaves” the subtitle “A Romantic Dramedy.” Currently having its premiere run at the Footlights in Falmouth, this work indeed piles plenty of romance, drama and comedy into its warmly entertaining 90 minutes.
Folksy, good humor is the order of the day in the first act as the audience is introduced to Autumn, an innkeeper/matriarch who, a decade later, still mourns her husband’s death. She counts on a gathering of the clan every year to help ease her grief.
We also get to meet humble handyman Hank, who would like to romance Autumn but doesn’t know where to begin, and brassy-but-with-a-heart-of-gold cook Sam, who ends up playing unofficial referee and peacemaker once the family begins to arrive.
Light humor, spiced with just a dash of gentle sarcasm, rules in the initial reunion phase. Daughter Lizzy and her husband, Paul, who struggle to hide their hostilities, join the group along with son, Michael, who is not comfortably “out” with his mom, and his sweetly suspicious companion, Peter. Single daughter, Katie, along with family friend Ruthie, complete the large cast of characters. They nearly fill but ably navigate the intimate performance space, which is decorated with a range of vintage furniture and objects, though the play is set in the present.
With a snooping Sam frequently acting as the catalyst for the narrative exposition, we soon learn that Lizzy and Paul are divorcing, Michael and Peter want to get married at the inn and Katie is juggling choices surrounding her unplanned pregnancy.
When mom gets wind of all these issues, her ideal of having a “normal” family is seemingly crushed, despite Sam’s advice that they all “embrace the craziness.”
All the performers are exceptionally good at humanizing Tobin’s affectionately drawn characters.
Leslie Chadbourne’s sweetly stubborn Autumn balances Rick Kusturin’s shy but steady Hank. Gretchen G. Wood’s Sam exudes a tough-love caring, as does Jaymie Chamberlin’s worldly Ruthie. Victoria Machado’s Lizzy defends her honor, while Mark Calkins’ Paul muddles toward repentance. Autumn Carey has her frazzled Katie cry out for support, and Ryan Lane’s Michael pleads that his love for Andrew Hanscom’s “fabulous” Peter be accepted.
The second act grinds just a bit when the emotional gloves come off. Mom finds it excruciatingly hard to accept that, in life, “You either get bitter or you get better.” She runs the risk of becoming unlikable, which is close to unthinkable in this positive-minded show.
Never fear – love and forgiveness are in the air in this heartwarming play.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.
Source: Portland pressHumor and pathos marry well in ‘Falling Leaves’ at Footlights