Ann-Marie MacDonald’s beloved novel, “Fall On Your Knees” is finally gracing the stage. After years of development and collaborations with the National Arts Centre, Vita Brevis Arts, Neptune Theatre, and The Grand Theatre, Canadian Stage is the first company to host Fall On Your Knees for their rolling World Premiere. Co-Created by Hannah Moscovitch (writer) and Alisa Palmer (director), this two-part theatrical epic chronicles the lives of the Piper family of Cape Breton Island in a story full of music, love, heartache, and hope.
I absolutely loved the way that this production was staged. Firstly, the set design itself was a marvel; I had thought that the objects criss-crossing the stage were poles of some sort. It wasn’t until I saw them moving that I realized Camellia Koo’s full vision: they were piano strings. It was as if the entire play was being told in an upright piano, like the one in the Piper home. It’s marvellous, and to watch the strings move and vibrate with the music or when someone would walk past made for an extraordinary experience. I also appreciated that the cast was on stage and witness to a good portion of the story, especially the things which are supposedly happening behind closed doors; it added a layer of seeing but also of everyone sitting around listening to a story being told which I really enjoyed. Part 1 ends with just a couple of chairs and a lantern dangling from the ceiling, representing the main characters whom we’d lost at that point; however I thought it was brilliant how by the closing scenes, there were so many chairs, so many loved ones missing from the table, dangling above the few family members who were left. The design of this production is incredible, every set and costume down to the smallest detail is impeccable. It truly makes both parts a delight to watch.
The cast of Fall On Your Knees is brilliant; they each display the complexity and vulnerability of MacDonald’s characters. Tim Campbell is fantastic as James Piper; he gives him a loveable, charming quality which makes you understand how Materia falls in love with James, but he doesn’t shy away from showing the “demon” inside of James when it does surface. Deborah Hay is perfect as Frances; she has the same spritely grin that I imagined Frances having when reading the book, and Hay’s radiance always shines through in every role she takes on. Jenny L. Wright’s Mercedes is kind and loveable, a textbook example of a young lady forced to grow up over-night but rising to the challenge. You feel for Mercedes every step of the way as she becomes the keeper of more and more secrets. Both Hay and Wright’s characters become the keepers of the family’s secrets, the hope chest in the attic becoming a veritable pandora’s box of drama and trauma until they finally tell each other everything. I loved watching the love story between Amaka Umeh’s Rose and Samantha Hill’s Kathleen flower in Part 2. Both actors are brilliant in their roles, and their chemistry together is electric! Janelle Cooper has an amazing voice and I eagerly await a full Jazz/Blues album from her, Antoine Yared is somehow always charming no matter what role he’s playing, Diane Flacks made Mrs. Luvovitz even more loveable on stage than she was on the page, Eva Foote performed miracles like it was an everyday thing, Drew Moore was the ideal boy-next-door for Mercedes, Tony Ofori takes Leo Taylor from obedient young man to rum-runner with grace, Cara Rebecca and Maryem Tollar reminded me so much of my grandmother’s family and helped me find a new pet name for my partner, and Dakota Jamal Wellman’s Anthony is the hope for the future of the Pipers. I truly mean it when I say that each performer in this production is well-cast, excellent in their roles, and truly breathe life into this incredible epic.
For a story which includes some difficult moments, I felt that Fall On Your Knees handled these instances with grace and purpose. The violence wasn’t gratuitous, and the potential for gore wasn’t physically realized but left to the audience’s imagination. This allows us to understand the traumas affecting the Piper girls without feeling overwhelming as an audience member.
I understand that Fall On Your Knees might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a six-hour commitment to see both pieces, and for some folks historical fiction isn’t their bag. I get it. But for me, I loved every minute of it. Everything from the design choices to the cast, the way they broke up the story to the music infused into both parts, I was enthralled. Even though I know how the book is going to end now, I’m still reading it because I want to see how the rest of this story is told on the page now that I’ve witnessed it on stage. Personally, I thought that Fall On Your Knees is well worth the time to take it all in and see this fabulous Canadian novel come to life.
Fall On Your Knees is epic in the most true sense of the word. This beautiful yet hard look at family and love will take you on an emotional journey like nothing else can. You’ll definitely want to catch this incredible production before it makes its way to the next location on it’s tour. For more information and tickets, visit: Canadian Stage’s mission is to be the leading contemporary performing arts organization in the country.
Photo by Dahlia Katz