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Poor Mrs. Rooney is slowly making her way to her blinded husband Dan, and she meets several other townspeople on the way who are all fairly helpful but who never quite quell her worried-out existential angst. When Mrs. Rooney and her husband finally meet up, All That Fall seems to settle into a warm look at an old married couple—until Mr. Rooney suddenly asks, “Did you ever wish to kill a child? Nip some young doom in the bud.” There’s no actor working on the stage today who has the vocal power of the great Gambon, and the way he pounces on these two frightening lines instantly darkens the play, which gets steadily darker until the end, when something very bad and ugly is revealed.
The ending of All That Fall takes Beckett’s famed “I should never have been born” Irish morbidity to a new level of nihilistic clarity, and it almost seems like too much to bear after the nearly vaudevillian fun of the earlier scenes. But Gambon’s ravaged power and Atkins’s cranky radiance lift and purify this difficult play until it, too, reaches a new kind of clarity. In a theater season that has offered us nearly an embarrassment of riches, this production of All That Fall is not to be soon forgotten.