Up on the Fade Out
Directed by Ron Canada
Hildreth - Stephen
On an impulse, Stephen, older brother to James and son to Bernard, kisses the girl he has idolised for twenty years, since they were freshmen together. Ever since then, when their paths have crossed, he has been unable to put voice to his adoration and tell Kristina how he feels about her. Then, on the day of her wedding, in a moment reminiscent of The Graduate, Stephen seduces Kristina away from her husband to be and her family and into his bed.
The play opens with Stephen filming Kristina as dawn breaks through his Manhattan apartment window encapsulating his perfect moment and, he supposes, marking the start of a perfect life with the woman he has always loved.
A slow start and some dubious dialogue raises concerns that the audience might have been better off elsewhere, but the arrival of younger brother James and father Bernard to blight Stephen's perfect day gives both the story and acting a much-needed lift.
Kristina and Stephen
Bernard is suffering with dementia. His main care-giver, James, is a salesman for an elevator company. He has an important meeting that day and needs Stephen to watch their father for a few hours. Stephen has not seen his father for two years, allowing Bernard to live with and be cared for James, his wife Lisa and their son, Mikey. Stephen's sole contribution to the care of their father is an email to James recommending a care facility where James can place Bernard.
With the arrival of Garret and Mark Bramhall the play comes alive. Alina Phelan relaxes into her role and there is some good byplay between the two brothers.
Stephen, obsessed with his career as a director of TV commercials and the film he has just finished which is up for an award that evening, doesn't want to be responsible for his father, even for a few hours. Finally persuaded, Stephen and Kristina are left with Bernard as Kristina's doubts over her own impetuous actions are fuelled by Bernard's advice to her on what it means to love someone.
Thomas Hildreth's performance in the first half is uneven. He doesn't always successfully convey the emotional intensity of the situations in which he finds himself. Fortunately his co-actors are able enough to draw the audience into their tangled web and keep them there.
Act II starts with Stephen dressed for his awards ceremony. Kristina has left to face her family and ex-fiancé. James has not returned from his meeting. The day spent with his father has left Stephen fraught and angry, both at the situation and himself. He is plagued with his own guilt at not caring for his father, for having effectively abandoned him to James and he is still grappling with his own anger at his father's abandonment of the family, many years ago when Bernard left the family home.
Stephen insists his father not talk. By allowing his father to talk Stephen would be forced to listen and to confront what he does not want to - the truth about his father's attendance at his graduation ceremony. Over the years, Stephen has fuelled his anger at his father with the hurt that his father did not see him graduate. The truth is the opposite, with his father going to great lengths to attend. With that reality shattered, Stephen's anger is set free without a place to rest after lying at his father's door for so long.
Stephen and Bernard
James' return the pace picks up. James has been successful in his meeting,
but his achievement is tainted with the reality that he has to collect his
father from Stephen and take him home and continue to care for him.
Emotions rise and Bernard, spurred on by Stephen's irresponsible encouragement that his father can take a trip to Ireland to look for the lost love of his life, the mysterious Katherine, refuses to leave with James. In a moment of cathartic bitterness, James confesses that his wife has left him, taking their son with her and leaving him alone with Bernard. His anger and frustration erupts as he screams his fury at his father, the only target at whom he can strike out.
Stephen, who finally has a glimpse of the pain James has been dealing with, offers to let his father stay with him for the night. Even though he has missed his awards ceremony and there has been no word from Kristina since she left earlier, we see the only moment of compassion from a man who does not seem able to experience life other than through the medium of his camera.
Throughout the play Stephen is portrayed as voyeuristic, watching others through the camera lens. He is detached from reality to the point where Kristina suggests he has filmed their love-making. The audience laughs uneasily at that point, not convinced by Stephen's protestation of his innocence.
James leaves, hoping to make amends with his wife. Stephen faces coping with his father's mood swings and tears and tantrums, as well as his failing memory. This is what James does day in and day out. Stephen struggles to cope for a few short hours. For a moment it seems that Stephen has empathy for what his brother does, arguing with Bernard that James is not the weakling Bernard accuses James of being.
Kristina returns to the apartment, but Stephen's joy is short-lived. Whilst she is not going back to her former fiancé she is not staying with him, choosing instead to return to Los Angeles. She tells Stephen that his love is unreal, that he has put her on a pedestal from where she can never disappoint him what ever she does. That isn't love, she explains. She leaves and Stephen and his father are once again alone.
text message alerts Stephen to the fact that his film has won the award
it was up for. Having berated his brother for his own fear of failure,
Stephen realises that his own self-same fears are unfounded and in the
approbation of others Stephen faces his father and realises that his father's
quest for Katherine is a moment he can capture - on film. The lights fade
on the face of a lost, lonely and sad man. Perhaps Stephen sees his own
future through the lens of his camera.
device of allowing Stephen to film Kristina in bed in that first scene and
the face of his father as the play finishes is only one aspect of the staging
that really works for this play. For long periods of time throughout the
play there are three protagonists on stage. The director delights in placing
the actors at the points of a triangle. Then at critical moments he pushes
them together and then rips them apart as the emotions boil over. Thumbs
up to the director who has sculpted an interesting performance.
are parts of this play where the dialogue is clunky, almost silly, but
for the most part the script is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. It
is between Stephen and Kristina that for me the difficulties arise. The
description of flower petals as 'unicorn kisses' might work for a besotted
teenager, but not for a 42 year old man and his lover. The other, almost
painful, moment is when Stephen is trying to describe Kristina late in
the second half. It is an emotional highpoint, but flat delivery from
Thomas Hildreth leaves the audience mystified rather than inspired
for the audience the remainder of the cast can act their socks off. Alina
Phelan was impressive after a slow start and convincing in her realisation
of what she had done in running out on her wedding day. Mark Bramhall alternates
Bernard between chaos and calm, portraying the aching sadness of lost memories
with the equally poignant glimpses of wisdom and knowledge that age brings.
Garett produces a performance that makes you wonder why he wasn't first choice to play the part. His significant emotional scenes in Act II hit home with a truth that is heart-breaking and totally believable. Anyone who has ever cared for a parent with dementia will recognise the pain and the love that twist themselves around the carer and cause such heartache. A very good performance with real empathy and passion.
play of realities; those lost, those searched for, those rejected and
those suffered - Stephen who has chosen to exist in his unreal world behind
the camera, leaving his brother James to live a harsh reality every day
with their father who is lost in the unreality of dementia and Kristina
who has yet to decide which reality she wants to choose. A moving play
that challenges us to consider our own reality.
Empty stage 2
Sentinel related footnote: The actor for whom Garett stepped in was James Parks. Recognise the name? Now if I said Tommy Juno would that help? Yep, Sentinel alumni Parks was given the role in the first instance ahead of Garett.