by Leta Tremblay · June 12, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #112 Leta Tremblay looks at A Fable playing at Cherry Lane Theatre
Because of a few scheduling snafus, many of my close friends saw A Fable before I did. When they heard that I was going to be writing about it, their eyebrows shot up, their lips pursed, and they took a deep inhalation. I didn’t know much about the plot walking in the door but I did know that it was going to be a challenging production.
And it’s true. David Van Asselt’s play challenges the audience.
According to the press release:
“The epic adventure of an idealist spurred on by love to right a long-forgotten wrong, A Fable follows his encounters with a whole cast of characters—colorful and corrupt, lucky and ill-fated—as they each grope their way through a landscape of nationwide strife and corporate greed. A play of dualities, A Fable takes into question how each choice we make can drastically change our ending.”
Our first challenge comes with the introduction of our hosts for the evening and by far the most interesting characters of the play. Luke, a representation of Lucifer played by the charming Gordon Joseph Weiss, and Angela (you guessed it), an angel masterfully portrayed by Samantha Soule, are vying for the soul of one lone human being in a familiar devil vs. angel tug-of-war. Their battle puts Jonny (Hubert Point-Du Jour) in the role of the protagonist. He is the “idealist spurred on by love to right a long-forgotten wrong.” Every step he takes seems to be urged by the angel or devil on each of his shoulders.
From the very beginning, Angela and Luke demonstrate their power to manipulate the world of the play by changing the atmosphere of a scene with light and music. Both seem to be responsible for the inciting incidents of the story. Luke brings destruction upon the home of a small family in the form of pillaging soldiers and Angela goes so far as place two characters, who have not even met each other yet, in love with an appropriately cued duet.
Yet Luke and Angela deny the power of their actions. In Angela’s words:
“When it was decided to breathe life into inanimate matter, any idea of control was given up. We can admonish, instruct, encourage, nudge. But only indirectly. If they can choose (points to JONNY), then we cannot. (pause) We accept that.”
So we are told that Jonny is responsible for his own destiny and choices despite the evidence that we are continually shown of Angela and Luke interfering in an attempt to win their bet. Our first contradicting duality.
Van Asselt further challenges the audience by forcing us to confront all of the ugliness of human nature in the forms of greed, lust, and despair. People are cruel to each other. Those with resources, more often than not, take from those without. They take land, money, livelihood, and even life. Jonny’s encounters with “colorful and corrupt, lucky and ill-fated” characters bring us face to face with that ugliness. Everyone seems to have some darkness inside of them. And anyone who attempts to defy that reality seems to be broken down by the world.
Jonny is just as susceptible to this darkness, much to Luke’s satisfaction:
“What you see before you is a man who has reached the end of something. Call it what you like, the end of his resistance, the bottom of his heart. Don't think these events were my doing. They were not. Events are preordained. Men's attitudes towards events are what interest me. I wish men to see the truth. No more. No less.”
Director Daniel Talbott and his team present these dark realities to us with a light yet somber hand by finding humor in our very humanness while also acknowledging the gravity of the troubling world in which we find ourselves.
So where does that leave me after sitting in the Cherry Lane Theatre for two hours taking this all in? We could talk about all of the issues that this play brings up for hours and hours, days and days, and never come any closer to finding a solution.
This is a fable right? So what’s the moral? As my theater date put it over dinner after the show, “let’s Aesop this shit.”
After pouring over the many challenges that this production present and the multilayered philosophy that our angel and devil guides bring to our attention, this is what we came up with:
We don’t have control over what happens to us. We can only control how we react to it.
Seems simple enough.
A Fable addresses big ideas and big questions about fate, identity, human nature, and the agency that we have in our own lives. It makes perfect sense that one should leave the theater with more questions then when walking in the door. If you watch this play with awareness, then you are forced to engage with it. And hopefully you are able to bring that engagement with you into the rest of your life and shine a little more light into the darkness.