How a Boy Falls stumbles at Northlight | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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How a Boy Falls stumbles at Northlight

Steven Dietz's family drama doesn't give us enough reasons to care.


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Steven Dietz's family drama lacks high stakes. Nothing is as it seems to be in How a Boy Falls, Steven Dietz's family drama receiving its world premiere production here at Northlight, and that's a problem. If one person had a dark secret, or hidden past, in this tale of a family shaken by the perhaps accidental death of a young boy, it might have made for a great drama—or at least an interesting one. But Dietz piles on one secret after another, until we come to believe nothing in the play is certain, and then we stop caring.

To be fair, there are a lot of reasons we don't care about Dietz's story. For one, Dietz, a seasoned and accomplished playwright, has chosen this time around to treat his characters like mere pieces in a very complicated game, with the result that Dietz's characters talk a lot, do a lot, but rarely say or do anything that makes us want to know about who they are, or why they do what they do.

This may be one reason why the current production is so cold; there just are no relatable characters to draw us in. I suspect there are many factors in the show's lack of warmth, and plenty of blame to go around. For one, Dietz's story is not particularly well structured. There are lots of big reveals in his tale, moments when, in a better-told story, we might gasp in surprise, or smile in recognition, but here only remind us that in Dietz's universe anything can happen, and does, and so what.

The show's director, Halena Kays, seems utterly unable to find any drama in this drama. Nor do her actors; in the hands of this cast Dietz's words are rarely anything more than a 75-minute acting exercise. Of the five members of this ensemble, only Cassidy Slaughter-Mason is able to give her character—a shady, negligent au pair—the illusion of depth. The rest of the cast could be played by puppets, and nothing would be lost. In fact, this play might work better with puppets. On second thought: no, it wouldn't.  v

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