No expensive stage set could ever compete with the 1841 John Street United Methodist Church for bright and airy serenity, perfect for Rising Phoenix’s site-specific Fall Forward, a brief, soul-searching play about loneliness and mourning. Daniel Reitz’s script might not command attention in a black box, but it exploits this contemplative locale to tangible effect.
Ushered into the church’s tiny courtyard, the audience discovers an over-testosteroned young broker (Joel Johnstone). Demonstrating what a versatile scene partner a BlackBerry makes, he simultaneously closes a deal, makes dinner plans with Mom, pacifies the girlfriend, and cruises online for quickie boyfriends. But all the materialism and hyper-hedonism soon trigger his conscience, leading himand usinto the church, where he bares his soul to another lone New Yorker seeking solace, as two mysterious figures in the pews behind them look on. Suffice it to say the nearby events of 9/11 soon loom large over the proceedings.
Director Daniel Talbott guides the appealing cast in an approach definitely more “method” than Methodist; the pauses and quiet confessions all contribute to a welcome spiritual silence. Like the old chapel’s interior, the play is refreshingly sober, spare, and humble.