A senseless random tragedy causes nine Minneapolitans to reevaluate their lives in Peter Gil-Sheridan’s What May Fall, now getting a compelling, beautifully acted, incisively directed West Coast Premiere at Hollywood’s Theatre Of NOTE.

WHAT_MAY_FALL_-_1.jpg.644x1091_q100 Window washer Arthur (Brad C. Light) is plying his trade high up a Minneapolis skyscraper when a fellow washer working only feet away plunges to his death many stories below. Now, Arthur must deal with survivor’s guilt, and with the dread that a similar fate could befall him or his loved ones at any time.

Alice (Lauren Letherer) is Arthur’s bus driver wife, who finds herself none too keen on quitting her job simply because her troubled spouse now fears for her safety behind the Metro Transit wheel.

Street musician Sky (Jason Denuszek) was out playing his accordion for coins on Alice’s route when tragedy struck, while his slacker friend Shanie (understudy Chantelle Albers) was (what else?) vegetating in front of Judge Judy.

Nicholas-S.-Williams-Christopher-Neiman-and-Christine-Breihan.-Photo-by-Darrett-Sanders Bossy, uptight corporate exec Mack (understudy Eric Neil Gutierrez) was closer by, having just chewed out his luckless, ineffectual assistant Mercy (Christopher Neiman) for yet again falling short of expectations, this time by having spent too long lunching with his sculptor friend Ima (Inger Tudor) just outside the office building where tragedy was soon to strike.

Christine-Breihan-and-Alana-Dietze.-Photo-by-Darrett-Sanders. Meanwhile back at Mack’s home, his pregnant wife Jo (Alana Dietz) finds herself facing news that the child she is carrying may be born with Down Syndrome, news which her sister Shanie greets with stern advice to simply “get rid of it.”

Finally, there’s Salli (Michelle Hilyard), the deceased window washer’s niece, who’s none too happy to see a capable man like Sky frittering his life away busking for spare change in the City Of Lakes.

Though hardly the first work of fiction to deal with similar themes, What May Fall proves remarkably fresh and original, with considerable humor to lighten what in other hands might be relentlessly grim subject matter, laughs which come from Gil-Sheridan’s characters’ very human quirks and foibles and from the cast’s all-around terrific performances under MaryJo DuPrey’s savvy direction. The improbably named Mercy is a particular source of delight, and never more so than when confronted with a not particularly flattering wire concoction Ima has “sculpted” of him.

Especially satisfying are the ways Gil-Sheridan’s characters upend our expectations of them as they find themselves changed by the events of a single day, the previously fearless Arthur developing a sudden case of agoraphobia, Mack’s icy wife revealing depths of emotion we might not have expected, and Mack discovering himself capable of generosity and grace.

The-Cast-of-What-May-Fall-2.-Photo-by-1 I find myself somewhat torn in my reaction to one of the playwright’s central conceits, that his actors don anonymous masks from time to time, partly I suppose for dramatic effect, partly too, I’d guess, to hearken back to classic Greek tragedies, and partly simply to distinguish What May Fall’s recognizable cast of characters from various anonymous Minneapolis bus passengers, onlookers, and sundry strangers. The play’s two previous incarnations eliminated the masks, leaving me to wonder whether they serve to underline one of the play’s central themes, that the figurative masks we wear hide our real selves, or simply come across as artsy and unnecessarily theatrical? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

What is beyond question is the caliber of work being done on the Theater Of NOTE stage, from regular cast members who have had weeks of rehearsals and performances during which to fine-tune their performances (Dietze, Letherer, and Neiman stand out particularly in a weak-link-free cast) to understudies Albers and Gutierrez, who match them every step of the way without near the prep time.

Then there’s Ellen Lenberg’s stunning abstract cubist set design, evoking the skyscrapers and snow of wintry Minneapolis in addition to morphing quickly into suggestions of the play’s various locales. Add to that John A. Garofalo’s dramatic lighting, Letherer’s character-appropriate costumes, and Jonathan Snipes’ sound design and original music, which up the drama and suspense at every turn, and you’ve got quite a design package.

Cristina Bercovitz has created the production’s striking white commedia masks. Kelly Egan’s props get thumbs up as well.

What May Fall is produced for NOTE by Alex Elliott-Funk and John Money. Bebe Herrera is stage manager.

I’ve not seen many productions at Theatre Of NOTE, but those I have seen (Shake, Eat The Runt, Hearts Like Fists, and A Mulholland Christmas Carol) have made it clear that this a company of actors and assorted theater artists any city would be proud to have in its midst.

What May Fall may not change your life nearly as dramatically as it changes the lives of the characters it depicts, but it’s likely to get you to reflecting on how precious life is, and make you just a bit more committed towards living your own to its fullest.

Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
March 14, 2013
Photos: Darrett Sanders
(Cast photos feature Christine Breihan as Shanie and Nicholas S. Williams as Mack)

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