Off-Broadway play has heartland lineage

2012-12-06T08:00:00Z Off-Broadway play has heartland lineageBy Dan Craft
December 06, 2012 8:00 am  • 

The 250-seat Minetta Lane Theatre off-Broadway in New York’s West Village has become a little corner of “flyover country” this fall.

One of the season’s acclaimed premieres, “Falling,” packs a full-blown heartland lineage, including several strong ties to Bloomington-Normal.

The director, Lori Adams, is head of Illinois State University’s acting program and longtime head coach of The Pantagraph’s Holiday Spectacular (see accompanying story).

The scene designer, John Stark, is head of the production/design area at ISU and also a Holiday Spectacular vet — not to mention Adams’ husband.

The author, Deanna Jent, is an Illinois Wesleyan University School of Theater alumna who based the drama — set entirely in a Midwest household — on her own experiences as the mother of an autistic son.

Jent is also a longtime chum of Adams who today teaches theater at St. Louis’ Fontbonne University and is the founder of the city’s Mustard Seed Theatre, where “Falling” had its world premiere a year ago.

“I was a junior theater major at Illinois Wesleyan in 1982, and Lori was a part-time teacher there,” recalls Jent, 30-odd years later from her office at Fontbonne. “Even though I never had a class with her, we became friends and stayed in touch over the years.”

Adams found herself at Mustard Seed four years ago for her first collaboration, then returned in the spring of 2011 to direct Jent’s intensely personal “Falling.”

“Lori is fearlessly honest, and she demands that her actors be that way as well,” says the author. “That is precisely the kind of director my play needed.”

Fearless honesty was definitely in demand in “Falling,” which covers a stressful day in the life of a hulking 18-year-old autistic boy named Josh, who can be, by turns, both lovable and scary.

Coping with these swings are his devoted mother, Tami; his father, Bill; his resentful younger sister, Lisa; and the visiting Grammy Sue, Bill’s scriptures-quoting mother.

Reviews have been good, and the three-month run, through Dec. 30, has ensured that the play will have a life beyond off-Broadway, with various theater groups around the country and beyond already expressing interest.

“Falling” is the first New York experience for both Jent and Adams.

“I’m a Midwestern girl, born and raised in Illinois,” says Jent. “We both felt like country mice in the city for a little while, but we came to enjoy all New York had to offer. In the end, work on this project or any project is really the same; only the environment changes.”

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