The main line in David Caudle’s new comedy The Short Fall is an amusing, wacky tale about overweening ambition and discovering that your heart’s desire was in your own backyard all along. Sound familiar? But here, this well-worn design is contained in a 21st-century framing device: The woman telling the story, Tabby Fodder (the unerringly sharp Dori Legg), is actually pitching it – true or not – to a couple of reality TV hands. And reality TV forms the real subject of The Short Fall.
Except that it doesn’t, really. First off, there’s a good deal of doubt as to whether Tabby’s tale is true, and even if it is, showing something that has already happened is not the point of reality TV. Second, why in the world would a harried employee on a TV show set want to give nutty Tabby the time of day, much less a couple of hours to present her whole preposterous story? It doesn’t make sense. Finally: The play doesn’t in the end say much if anything about its ostensible subject, or if it does, this brain wasn’t smart enough to detect it.
Yet most of these thoughts came to me after the lights went up. They sound like criticisms, and surely they are, but the plain fact is, I enjoyed the play.
For one thing, there’s Ms. Legg’s Tabby, a complex, witty, wisecracking, celeb-obsessed, small-town social climber. “We’re Americans,” she declares. “We’re supposed to live beyond our means. But we don’t steal. We run up debt, we declare bankruptcy.” For another, until they show me otherwise, I’ll stick to my view that Toy Box Theatre isn’t capable of a bad production. While, in Caudle, they may not have found a new John Ford nor in The Short Fall a Woyzeck for the new century, they certainly take a sharp turn towards the contemporary here – and do so pretty slickly, without losing sight of their main mission to tell a good story and tell it well.
In brief: The always delightful Toy Box mainstay Ron Bopst, a master of excrutiating discomfort, plays Lloyd Fodder, a mild-mannered minor executive and simple soul who doesn’t want much out of life besides peace and quiet – but needs some extra cash. His cold-blooded, Iago-like assistant Lance (Ryan Colwell) – the character names in this play are all significant – conceives a clever form of blackmail when he discovers Lloyd’s been siphoning funds from the company.
It’s not money Lance wants, but power, so he joins forces with Tabby, Lloyd’s wife, in a scheme to propel Lloyd to ever-higher positions so that they may knock him down at a later date when Lance can reap magnified benefits. It’s a somewhat confusing scheme, almost Shakespearean in its unlikeliness. Along the way they make cruel use of the Fodders’ teenage daughter Louvre (the excellent Kally Dulling), nearly whoring her out and then sending her overseas when she becomes a liability.
As we would expect in any classic story of over-reaching, Tabby and Lloyd’s scheme collapses under its own preposterous weight (as the plot grows ever more absurd). Inside that modern framing story we find old-fashioned “lessons.”
OK, so it doesn’t all hang together or say much new. It’s crisply directed; it boasts a fine central performance by Ms. Legg, a solid cast overall, and hilarious bit-part turns by Toy Box veteran Ryan Reilly and the glorious Karen Stanion; and it provides a lot of laughs. It’s an amusing ride from start to finish, even if it leaves us with a vague sense of huh?