With the large number of shows of varying quality that are presented each year at the San Diego International Fringe Festival, it’s easy to overlook and miss some high-quality works. Luckily for us, several of these plays return for limited engagements.
First staged at the 2017 festival, To Fall in Love (originally entitled To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This and now being produced with the aspiration of being included in the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe) takes its inspiration from a Modern Love essay written by Mandy Len Catron, which was then adapted into a plot by Jennifer Lane. The result is an absorbing narrative, set inside the living room of a Pacific Beach house, from Melpomene Productions.
The play opens with a struggling writer-turned-teacher, Wyatt (Eric Casalini), welcoming a seemingly directionless woman, Merryn (Beth Gallagher), into his home. Although they appear to be on good terms with each other, the two are a recently separated married couple. In a final attempt to save their marriage, Wyatt and Merryn decide to answer 36 questions from a 1997 study by psychologist Arthur Aron, and popularized in Catron’s essay. Their goal is to get together again, even though Wyatt seems to take the experiment much more seriously than does Merryn.
Lane’s writing is dramatic, interspersed with moments of levity to mitigate the dramatic tension, and she uses Aron’s 36 questions as a clever vehicle to gradually reveal information about the couple.
Both performers are able to give natural and intimate performances, with Casalini portraying a soft-spoken man still in love with his wife, and Gallagher playing Merryn with a deep sadness that’s not immediately apparent.
Wyatt and Merryn’s conversation is not always easy to watch, with every moment feeling extremely realistic and authentic. Although the drama is impactful, I’d recommend people are accompanied by others with whom they feel comfortable in watching the intense material. Some moments are filled with such heartache, anger and frankness, that audience members might leave the house in a bit of a daze, which is actually a positive aspect of this particular story.
Emotional performances from Casalini and Gallagher, and dramatic writing from Lane add up to a satisfyingly bittersweet rendition. In this unique way of presenting Aron’s study, Lane’s play provides an engaging evening.