Left to right: Hannah Cabell (Sally Woods), Jennifer Blood (Tania Carriage) and Daniel Abeles (Phil Moss) in Falling Petals at The Wings Theatre.
By Scott Harrah
In playwright Ben Elliss one-act import Falling Petals, three high-schoolers in the sleepy outback township of Hollow, Australia fret over their studies as they strive to get into a prestigious university in Melbourne and escape their dull country lives. Their quest for a better future, however, soon turns into a race for survival in this dark, apocalyptic thriller.
Phil Moss (Daniel Abeles), Tania Carriage (Jennifer Blood), and Sally Woods (Hannah Cabell) learn that a deadly disease that affects only the young is killing off many of their classmates. At first, they mock the mysterious deaths with derisive laughter, and giggle gleefully as petals from a cherry-blossom tree fall to the ground. To them, each petal metaphorically represents another death of a child in the town they call Nowhere Central, where adults embrace conformity and mediocrity, and frown upon anyone with ambition to do more than take a menial local job. This rural Aussie hamlet is a place where, like post 9/11 America, middle-class youth face a grim future because they do not have the same choices and privileges that their parents had.
The three study harder, but their dreams of escaping to the city are shattered as the disease spreads and the town is quarantined from the outside world. The plague soon moves upward in age and begins killing teens their age, and Phil, Tania, and Sally try to avoid the reality that they may be the next victims.
Parents begin locking their kids out as mob rule and panic take over the town. Adults shun any responsibility for their childrens struggle as things grow more desperate and bleak.
Elliss tale is less realistic than it is allegorical, and the sci-fi plot is a bit unfocused and confusing at times, but the razor-sharp American cast fills in the storys thematic holes with trenchant performances. Although not everything works, this is still an edgy, entertaining piece of 21st century theater that may remind audiences of a twisted episode of The Twilight Zone or the classic novel The Lord of the Flies.
Deftly directed by Mark Armstrong, the play originally produced in Melbourne in 2003 (where it won the Australian National Playwrights Conference New Dramatists Award) has been brought to New York by The Production Company (which exists to expose new works by Aussie playwrights to American audiences). Theatergoers familiar with Australia and its recent struggle with a rise in right-wing politics and troubles with Asian asylum seekers and Aboriginal reconciliation will find Falling Petals especially intriguing. Ellis has quite a bit to say about societys attitudes toward the young, outcasts, and the monotony and angst of rural life.
Much of the plays dialogue is sprinkled with Aussie slang, but the shows New York actors make no attempt to imitate twangy Australian accents and instead focus on their characters psyches. Amy J. Carle and Wayne Schroder, both of whom take on various roles as teachers, parents, journalists, doctors, and other grown-ups, outstandingly support the performances of the three teens.