The set for sophomore Nicole Acton’s production of “Fault Lines” perfectly represents the quality of the overall show. Comprised of a sofa and sideboard on audience left, acting blocks and departmental chairs on stage right, the environment lacks unity. So, too, is the dramatic action lacking: though there are few moments that are nicely staged and well acted, the whole lacks a cohesive through line, and the piece’s emotional impact is severely diminished.
“Fault Lines,” written by actress Rebecca Louise Miller, centers around the three friends of a little girl, Nina, who was kidnapped at a slumber party and found dead three days later. Kat (freshman Martha Brown), Bethany (junior Jo Niederhoff) and Jessica (sophomore Natalie Polechonski) are now grown up, reuniting at Bethany’s a few days before the execution of Nina’s kidnapper. Each has spent the ensuing years dealing with grief in their own separate ways, and the three women clash as their own perspectives on Nina’s kidnapping conflict with one another.
The problem I had with Acton’s production of “Fault Lines” was that it seemed to revel in the play’s seriousness. Kat, Bethany and Jessica are understandably tense in the face of the execution, but from the outset, they seem ready to jump at each other’s throats. Brown’s Kat, especially, comes off as stiff and reactionary. She sits stiffly, answers noncommittally and generally disconnects from those around her. And Bethany, a seemingly gracious host, seems lost in her own thoughts through the entire affair. The characters talk for the sake of talking, none directly responding to one another.
Arguably, this could be a result of the trauma and distance the three have experienced. But as an acting choice, it undermines the plot. As the play progresses, the execution nears, and it is found out that Bethany has been in contact with the killer and has been invited to his execution. Outraged, Kat and Jessica refuse to go. As audience, we should be torn at this conflict, having been invested in the characters throughout the preceding events. But because each starts the play with such intensity, there’s no room for the tension to grow.
Moments of levity when we see the women connect come off as forced and devoid of cheer. There’s a particularly hackneyed sequence in which the three play “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board”, in reminiscence of their childhood. The moment should have elicited at least a chuckle, but nothing. Despite the jokes they make, the world of the play has been established as far too serious for these moments to detract from the importance of the execution.
Even the climactic moments, the ones meant to be taken seriously, lack sufficient impact because of the production’s overall grimness. I found the abstract staging of the later scenes to be incredibly effective, but the transitions between concrete and abstract settings took too long. Further, the blocking in the house scenes lacked the same precision in the abstract scenes. Attempts at escalation were made, but then a character would sit down or move away, and the tension was detrimentally lost.
“Fault Lines” is based on the real-life kidnapping and murder of Polly Klass in 1993. It is a serious play with much to say about its subject matter. Acton has managed to capture the severity of such an event, but the reality is lost. These characters occasionally joke around, making their grief all the more palpable and all the more terrible. But because of the production’s insistence on the tragedy, these moments are glossed over. It’s an interesting choice, but one that, in my opinion, makes for flat and uninteresting theatre. What should have been a compelling character drama about dealing with grief quickly turned into a lecture about forgiveness and the three-strike law. Intriguing, but not exactly compelling.