“When It Rains” is what Spoleto is all about. Not its subject matter or style necessarily. I’m talking about the spirit of the thing. I’m talking about what it represents.
Spoleto can be a challenge. For most of us, there’s never enough time or money to make it to everything we want to see, and when you factor in the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, forget it. If you’re going to spend money and time on art, you want an experience, something you can’t do every day. “When It Rains” is just such an event.
The show is conceived as a living graphic novel. Its set — office, home, park, wine bottle, television, tree, bed — are computer-rendered and projected onstage. Sometimes these images are visceral and clear, sometimes suggestive and stylized. Those who know about Canada-based 2b Theatre Company and the four-year journey of this production might have seen the video highlights. Watching the clips doesn’t do it justice. The show is alive. Tables and benches are drawn onscreen. Text appears to give us context, history, inner monologues and French-singing translations. Projection Designer Nick Bottomley makes magic happen onstage, the kind that can’t be accomplished with a run crew, or even Final Cut Pro.
It all comes together beautifully. Writer-director Anthony Black has crafted a wonderful story of love and life and loss, told exceptionally well thanks to the various elements coming to form an impressive cohesive unit. As the Siri-esque computer-voiced narrator tells us, Anna (Samantha Wilson, a dynamo of raw nerves and exposed wounds) and Alan (Black, stoic and simple, with a sadness buried not too deep) are brother and sister. She’s a failed novelist constantly looking for happiness and purpose. He’s a commodities trader who believes only in the emotionless rule of probability.
Louis (Pierre Simpson, in a role that’s too funny not to be tragic) is Anna’s French husband, a drinker and philosophy professor. Schoolteacher Sybil (Francine Deschepper, skillfully wearing agony like a coat made of spikes) is pregnant with her and Alan’s first child. Improbable tragedies and heartaches befall the couples, and everything is in the balance. Only the scenery remains lovely. But the performances are no cartoons or caricatures. These four talented actors play for keeps and win, tearing their own hearts out while looking for somewhere to put them. It’s a great 70 minutes of the festival, a theatrical experience you won’t soon forget.
Michael Smallwood is an actor in Charleston.