Throughout Anthony Black’s When it Rains, I tried to pick a favorite character. I do not think that you have to like a character to respect his or her actions, words, or intentions. I just kind of like to have someone to root for, if only to get me through dry, boring, or too-long scenes.
Spoiler: I couldn’t pick a favorite character. In fact, I couldn’t even sort of kind of root for someone, no matter his or her plight — and some of these plights are rough. No, instead, I was left wondering how Black could envision such people, and who he could have possibly met in his life to inspire such annoying men and women as Alan, Sybil, Anna, and Louis. Each time one took the stage I wondered if they had an unspoken rule to see who could be more insufferable.
Alan (played by Black) is an actuary who works with numbers all day and is obsessed with probabilities. Let me repeat: He is obsessed with probabilities. A few lines acknowledging this fact would have sufficed — oh, yeah, Alan is realistic and doesn’t believe in God, etc., etc. — but Black likes to heavy-hand the shit out of this theme, rendering Alan completely obnoxious, and, even worse, heartless, especially in moments when we really need him to have a heart.
Alan’s wife Sybil (Francine Deschepper) is pregnant and not much else. I probably could have liked Sybil if Black allowed her character to develop. Instead Sybil is the mouth-piece for “what are the chances of this?” and Alan is the guy who tells you those chances. I don’t want to give away what tragedies befall Sybil, but they are pretty bad. The stark contrast of human emotions and words projected on a screen (the entire set is projected on to a wall, with two chairs and a few other props comprising the range of physical objects that appear) is, at times, effective. The stage goes black, Sybil disappears, and words tells us what is happening to her. I joined in the audible, “oh no,” of the crowd. But then the moment passed.
Dark comedies, I think, are supposed to be funny. I laughed maybe one or two times throughout the show. I heard laughter around me. Maybe I need a better sense of humor.
Louis (Pierre Simpson) and his wife Anna (Samantha Wilson) are comic relief compared to the struggles of Alan and Sybil. Anna is Alan’s sister, which I suppose matters if you wonder how these people know each other, but doesn’t hold much significance since the two treat each other like casual acquaintances. Anna is terrible. She is annoying, unlikable, and maybe even an idiot. Louis is a French philosophy professor who lives on the street for two weeks after Anna kicks him out. He speaks French sometimes, with English words projected on the screen. I took French for seven years, and while I wasn’t any good at it, I can get the gist of what someone is saying. That’s sort of how voice intonation and emotions work. So, the English words were weird and kept me at arm’s length from Louis. I would have liked him better if I didn’t know what he was saying.
Despite the fact that I disliked (and at times, loathed) the various characters, I enjoyed the play. It moved along quickly enough that I was never bored. I cared about what happened next because I liked the aesthetics of the screen projector and the sound effects.
I never gave up hope that the play would have a little heart. It almost does: Sybil and Louis come together in their darkest moments, and we don’t mind if they’re about to cheat on their significant others because, frankly, they need a little love. They walk slowly towards one another, appearing vulnerable, sad, and earnest. And then Sybil screams, pushing Louis away, telling him that he smells bad. This is not funny, not dark, and not even something in between — it’s just a shallow attempt at a laugh.
We do get to see Louis in all of his glory — I’m talkin’ full frontal. I don’t have much to say about that, but I figured it was worth mentioning.
Does Black want us to accept that our world is bleak and that bad things happen to good people (good, in this case, would be a stretch) and that we should all just settle into our lives, hunkering down into mediocre existences? No, I don’t think so. I think he wants us to see beyond the scope of his play. There’s a message somewhere in When it Rains, and it’s more than “it pours.” Unfortunately whatever that message was, it was lost on me. I hope, for the sake of hoping, that someone else can find it.