‘Failure: A Love Story’ offers audiences the unusual

‘Failure: a Love Story’, the Theatre department’s fall production, is “a little out there , truth be told,” director Ms. Kevin Yale Vernon said. (Photo Courtesy of: David B. Vernon)

Audiences are in for an unusual experience when the Theatre department’s fall production of “Failure: A Love Story continues this weekend.

The dark comedy is performed in the round, with the audience seated on stage for the first time since Community’s 2019 production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.” 

The decision to stage the show in the round, director Ms. Kevin Yale Vernon said, was because the play “is so bizarre.” 

Philip Dawkins’ “Failure: A Love Story” follows Gerty, Jenny June and Nelly Fail’s triumphs and defeats as the three Fail sisters inch closer to their untimely death. 

The plot jumps through time, moving forwards and backward, as it reminds audiences that, in the end — all that remains is love. 

“This is a comedy about death,” Vernon said. “There are parts that are funny. There are parts that are a little sad.”

It is 1928, and by year’s end all three Fail sisters will be dead — with the demise of Gerty (Abigail Rademacher), Jenny June (Madeline Calmes) and Nelly Fail (Sophia Hartke) coming in unusual ways: a blunt object to the head, a disappearance, consumption.

The “very first line of the show”, said Vernon, is “almost like the prologue to Romeo and Juliet,” revealing the fates of the Fails. 

“People are going to feel a little weird about this at first,” Vernon said, but promises the play’s ability to take people by surprise.

Audiences can expect the unexpected as the production’s ensemble cast take on unconventional roles: playing clocks, birds, a snake, a dog, and serve as a Greek chorus, narrating the lives of the Fail family. 

Actors Gibson Smith (’23) and Corban Belle (’23) showcase their vocals in the roles of Mortimer Mortimer and John N. Fail. 

“We have an extremely strong vocal music program” at Community, Vernon said. Instead of working around the cast’s conflict with other extracurriculars, “we decided to run with it.”

The show “doesn’t feel like a musical,” Vernon said, “although, at one point, three people do suddenly start singing for no apparent reason.”

“These actors are multi-talented,” Vernon said, “and they are excellent singers.” 

Killian Boyd (’23) plays a gramophone, “who does a lot of singing as if he were playing records,” Vernon said, providing the soundtrack for the show. 

When the show first came to Vernon’s attention in 2017 at the University of Illinois, “It just reminded me of how we like to [perform in the round] … because it’s a little weird,” she said. “It allows us to get away with trying some different things.” 

Vernon said one of those “different things” will be the show’s light design after the Theatre program upgraded to LED color mixing lights this summer.  

“We’re trying to do a lot of bizarre things with color,” Vernon said. 

Performing in the round, Vernon said, “sort of changes everything between the audience and the actors. I think it’s part of our academic mission to try and do that.”

The limited seating allows the actors to experience a sell-out crowd, Vernon said, and the audience to watch a “much more intimate” show. 

When the Theatre program performed “The Diary of Anne Frank” in the round during the 2016-17 season, Vernon said, the audience “felt like they were really up in the attic.” 

The final three performances of “Failure: A Love Story” run Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.

Tickets cost $5 for students and $10 for adults and are limited to 100 per show.