."It's a Monday in mid-autumn, which is its own season. The leaves are already falling. People are making pumpkin pies and hot apple cider. Girls are wearing sweaters for the first time this year. We're a family again on the newest day."
|Playwright Noah Haidle|
In act one, we meet the family members as they move through their morning routines on what will prove to be anything but a routine day. Mother Violet, stands solidly at the center of the family, despite the fact that she is nine months pregnant with twins and must contend with an elderly father—The Colonel—who suffers from dementia, a teenage daughter with eccentric habits, and a husband struggling to reconcile himself to a life he hadn't bargained for. Even the family dog, Max, has an unexpected inner life. We know this because of the ongoing commentary provided by a character known as Footnote. A sort of existential narrator, Footnote gives us glimpses of the truth hiding beneath the surface of this family's life.
By way of a morning greeting to Violet's unborn twins, The Colonel quotes a favorite Latin aphorism: "All things change, and we change with them." Yet seeming to contradict him, the family's morning rituals proceed as they always have. But then change does descend upon the family, abruptly and momentously, as the first act comes to a close.
The second act introduces two members of the family whom we haven't met before, engaged in a kind of philosophical argument—part Platonic dialogue, part vaudeville comedy routine—about the meaning and value of life. Their debate is hilariously funny, but the stakes could not be higher, and when it ends—forced to a conclusion by outside events—the theoretical argument yields a real-life choice that has far-reaching effects.
In fact, those effects continue to ripple through the final act of the play, which takes place many, many years after the first two. It depicts a reunion and a moment of reckoning shared by brother and sister. The house in Grand Rapids still stands, but nature has begun to reclaim it. The family struggles on, although many of its members have gone the way of all flesh. Footnote makes a brief return appearance—a character who exists outside of time, a dispassionate observer of the tolling bell and the toll taken. In this final chapter of the family saga, time becomes fluid—past, present and future commingle in the house—as the play moves toward an answer to the question it has implicitly asked all along: What makes life worth living?
Running its course in about 90 minutes, Smokefall is a compact play with big matters on its mind. Haidle openly acknowledges his artistic debt to the great American dramatist, Thornton Wilder, whose masterpiece, Our Town, asks similar questions in a similarly unconventional way.
And as Smokefall comes to its conclusion, the simple words spoken by the Colonel at its beginning remain true, but resonate in a very different way: "It's a Monday in mid-autumn, which is its own season… We're a family again on the newest day."