From The Dramatist, “Season in Review, 2016, a Most Inspiring Theatrical Moment,” Judy B. Goss, p. 36.
Fault, by Robert Ford
Produced by TheatreSquared, Fayetteville, AR
I watched sunset fall over exquisitely painted autumn forests cloaking the Ozark hills behind the farmhouse in the opening of Robert Ford’s new play, Fault, at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The idyll vanished as Gabe entered in growing darkness to discover Molly emerging from the shadows. They eyed each other suspiciously, both displaying shock, fear and anger. Horrors can descend upon rural landscapes, as tornado victims well know, but Fault probes the universal impulses to anticipate and to manage harrowing disasters.
Suspense builds quickly as Gabe, an NFL player home to bury his mother, challenges Molly, a strange outsider who gives terse answers before moving on. Kemp, the local sheriff, comes to urge his pal to evacuate. They speak of fracking, earthquakes, flooding, a nuclear plant’s meltdown, and hundreds of deaths in the river valley. Stakes are high for Kemp, Gabe, and Molly, who remain in radiation’s “hot zone.” Surveying the premises, Kemp inadvertently reveals his search for Molly, a mathematician and failure analyst from Los Angeles whose abandoned car he found. After sending Kemp away, Gabe brings Molly back from a nearby deserted homestead, offering his scant food and water.
Cast into the calamity from different worlds and apprehensions, Gabe and Molly share the confusion of post-prediction panic. What can be salvaged in the face of disaster? They probe each other’s motives and exchange compelling bits of personal history over a dinner of cold beans. As Molly exits and Gabe blows out the few candles, panels of a Japanese home deftly slide into place.
Suddenly the scene unfolds of a day decades earlier, before an atomic bomb was dropped there, on Nagasaki. Kemp, now Molly’s grandfather, Eiji, lays his mat and kneels in thought. Molly, now Moto, her grandmother, enters with a flyer dropped from American planes alerting people to escape devastation. She passionately begs Eiji to flee with their two-month old daughter. The stirring moment ends quickly: Moto agrees to stay, bending to Eiji’s belief that evacuation will bring dishonor upon the Emperor.
As Gabe and Molly force each other to face their unique sources of despair and loss caused by the river valley tragedy, the evocative scene of Moto and Eiji resonates. Molly’s technical comprehension of the unfolding crisis cannot dispel the haunting memory of her family story, one that combines deadly personal and institutional errors.
Social problems often prompt my writing, and I can slip into writing arguments instead of plays. Fault’s adroit theatrical flashback inspired me to find more creative approaches to time. Memory organically arose and moved the human psychological drama of guilt and expiation to the foreground, leaving pertinent topics (fracking, nuclear meltdown) as backdrop. When sunset brings catastrophic night, our hearts struggle to expand rather than shrink. We, like Molly and Gabe, seek sanity as well as survival. I write plays to discover what actions such characters will choose next.
Robert Ford, director Josh Hecht, Ryan George (Gabe), Brian Lee Huynh (Kemp/Eiji), Rebecca Hirota (Molly/Moto), and the designers provided a compelling performance.