This autumn, The Goodman Theatre’s “Smokefall” delivers an experience that is cradled between the realms of play, poetry and reality. The production, written by Noah Haidle and directed by Anne Kauffman, is magnetic, relentless and gentle all at once; it holds up a mirror in which every audience will surely see some piece of themselves. Chocked-full of brilliant acting, clean set design, pristine direction and an immense amount of heart, the show is a marvel from start to finish. As “Smokefall” unspools and reveals its full self, it becomes apparent that the inimitable Haidle has crafted something truly transcendent.
The production chronicles the tale of a family from Grand Rapids, Michigan and explores their story as they tumble through generations, love, heartbreak and triumph. The show challenges those who come to experience it and begs us to reflect on the time that we have on this earth.
Every facet of the production gleams, though the superb acting within it comprises one of the glues that binds it to its very core. The matchless Eric Slater, who has taken on the roles of Daniel and Fetus 1, delivered an effortless poeticism that is a privilege to witness.
Slater was hard-pressed to choose one favorite aspect of the show.
“The words,” he said. “Smokefall is the story of a family that seems very normal, quite plain really, but the simple beauty of the dialogue and the way the language winds through the town, the family and the Goodman space make this a very rare and powerful American drama. There are a lot of elements to love in this play, but none of it is possible without Noah Haidel’s unique, courageous and unapologetic script.”
The incredible Mike Nussbaum, who portrays Colonel and Johnny, also delivered a tour-de-force of a performance. Nussbaum instilled a perpetual teeter-totter within the play by delivering some of its most hilarious and heartbreaking moments. His legendary work is an absolute treat to witness.
The Goodman Theatre itself contributed something enormous to this autumn’s production as well. A sense of kindness and community seemed to fill the venue to its very brim. On Oct. 29, The Goodman’s 11th Annual New Stages Festival, which offers a beautiful and completely free selection of new plays, will kick off. It is apparent that, at its core, the theater is invested in sharing art and it is this sentiment that enables the theater to bring productions as marvelous as “Smokefall” to life.
“In my experience, The Goodman is without a doubt one of the greatest working environments in the country for a performing artist,” Slater said. “It’s not that they do anything all that differently, but what sets them apart is the investment and care for the artists working for them. That investment is at once energetic, and very consistent and that allows the work to grow organically. They have a wonderful facility and many resources at their disposal for sure, but the people make the space at the end of the day and the people at the Goodman are some of the best I’ve known.”
“Smokefall” is always lovely, deliciously odd and perpetually meaningful. Haidle is a light in the artistic community as his work’s speedy transition from the Owen to the Albert Theatre served as a tangible indication of its power, but the only way to experience it truly and fully is to watch it unfold in front of you. The show hums with complexity and timelessness; it invites you into the world of one family and every family at the same time. It is both subtle, momentous and full of reminders that quiet love is still good love.
“The two people sitting on either side of you in the theatre will have a different take on “Smokefall” than you will,” Slater said. “Talk to them about it and you may surprise yourselves.”
“Smokefall” is the kind of production that remains with its audiences long after they have left the theater. It will maneuver its way into your heart and remind you that, through it all, love just might be the perfect beginning and the perfect ending to every story.
“Smokefall” will be at the Goodman’s Albert Theatre from Sept. 20-Oct. 26.
The 11th Annual New Stages Festival will take place in the Owen Theatre from Oct. 29 to Nov. 16.