nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 10, 2009
Fault Lines, by Rebecca Louise Miller, is the second excellent, very mature play by a young woman playwright that I've seen in as many weeks. (The other one is This.) We're having an exciting December, theatre-wise, here in NYC.
The fault lines of the title refer specifically to the ones running under some of the most populated areas of California:
So I'm sitting on the highway for an hour, listening to this crone from Greenpeace pitch a retirement home for poultry, and suddenly it occurs to me that my car is sitting not twenty feet away from the Rodgers Creek Fault. And I think: our major roadway stretches over land that every expert says will liquefy without warning at some point in the next 20 years, and the people on the radio are screaming about the rights of menopausal chickens?
You can already see where Miller's metaphor is going: this is a play about fault—not so much finding or assigning it, but struggling to cope with it when there is so much to go around. The character who speaks the lines above is a thirtysomething woman named Kat who has returned to the neighborhood where she grew up in Northern California for a reunion with two friends from her childhood. With Bethany and Jessica, Kat shares a remarkable, unique experience—they were the other girls in the room when a fourth friend, Nina, was kidnapped by a stranger in front of their eyes. They've been carrying around the conflicting feelings of guilt and anxiety and fear and anger for 20 years. This week they will spend together promises something like closure, because the man who assaulted and then murdered their friend is about to be executed by the state.
But this is not your typical survivors-in-recovery story; Miller's approach is wondrously grown-up, as she depicts here the coming together of three women who have gone very separate ways to try to cope, unsatisfactorily, with the horrifying event that unites them. During the course of the play, each will attempt to convince the other two of the soundness of the choices and compromises they've made. The convincing will mostly be directed, though, at themselves. Fault Lines is a play about accepting choices and moving on from them, which is how life really works, every day we live it.
These three women are interesting individuals even without their shared tragedy. Kat is the mother of a young daughter, dealing with a recent forced separation from her husband. Bethany has two little boys, whom she is raising in a "green" house built by her husband. Jessica is the spokeswoman for a nonprofit organization that tries to prevent crimes like the one perpetrated against Nina.
There's a fourth character in the play, a TV journalist named Grayson who wants to get an interview with Kat, Bethany, and Jessica; he's staking out Bethany's lawn (where the three are staying), along with lots of other media folk. Grayson earnestly insists that theirs is a story that the world needs to hear, but the women really aren't buying it. One of the timely themes of Miller's play suggests a flip-side to our reality-TV-addicted nation: being famous sucks, and why people go to such lengths to acquire instantaneous and fleeting celebrity is one of our society's great mysteries.
Of course a fifth character—Nina herself, or at least her spirit—hovers over the proceedings throughout. But the great thing about Fault Lines is that, while it's rooted in an event that happened two decades in the past, it is always about the present, and how each moment leads to a next moment that must be lived, dealt with, decided.
David Epstein's staging of the play is exemplary. The production design, which includes a unit set by Ira Haskell and lighting by Joe W. Nova, is spare and simple and elegant; Epstein keeps the pace taut and gripping throughout. Miller herself appears as Jessica in a smart, restrained performance. Jenna Doolittle's Bethany manages to be simple and complicated at the same time, but Anais Alexandra's Kat is perhaps too intense in places to be completely convincing. Tobin Ludwig, in a fine performance, gives us a Grayson who makes a case for his intrusiveness that we almost can empathize with.
Fault Lines is Miller's first play; she is definitely a talent to keep an eye on.