Sara Falles does not fit the stereotype of an abused woman; in fact, she seems the least likely candidate to fall into such a relationship. She is strong, determined and unafraid to challenge her husband when she feels he is wrong. Playwright Jay Hanagan’s decision to focus on an abused woman with a clear sense of self-worth gives his play Softly Sara Falls a new and important take on the issue of domestic abuse. Softly Sara Falls is produced by Wizard Oil Productions, a relatively new company created to increase awareness of a variety of social issues. Domestic abuse is certainly a worthy issue of focus, though arguably an obvious one. Fortunately, the play does not merely state that Domestic Abuse Is Bad. Instead, it asks us a question that we do not consider often: How many times have you looked into the face of an abused person and not realized it?
The irony in Hanagan’s play is that even people who are abused miss the warning signs in others. The story does not focus on one suffering person, but several suffering people, all trying to avoid their crippling inner demons by concentrating solely on the future and never looking back.
A goofy young man named Reed (Michael Mattie) has a crush on Sara (Cecil Powell) but feels the wall she has put between them. He seems to always be happy, but the smile strains when the conversation turns to questions of his past. Sara’s best friend, Tanys, acts flippant and cute when she shows up at Sara’s house in cloud patterned pajamas hugging a bowl of popcorn to her chest for their big Saturday movie night. However, when Sara casually asks about the details of her relationship, she suspiciously clams up.
Even the antagonist Grant (Jonathan Ledoux) has a shady back-story, though the play does not use it to excuse his actions, only explain them. Sara knows from the beginning that her husband has skeletons in his closet; specifically a scarcely mentioned father who Grant’s siblings claim was prone to abuse. She urges Grant to confront these feelings rather than keeping them locked up inside, not realizing that she is lovingly encouraging years of repressed anger and aggression to rise to the surface.
Hanagan enhances this story by telling it in a non-linear format. Early in the plot Sara calls an advice hotline and narrates her story on-air as we watch it unfold before us. She starts with happy times, jumps to bad ones, and then switches back to the way things are now.
This forces Powell to run through a gamut of emotions ranging in extremes from frightened spouse to silly, playful friend. One scene ends with her cowering on the floor and another begins with her sitting poised and confident in a chair seeming sure that she has nailed a job interview. But in all scenes Powell comes across as a survivor, not a victim. There is a great moment where Grant pleads with Sara for a minute of her time when she tells him, in a controlled, furious voice, “No! Not even a second.”
Sara does not look like the face of abuse and she does not speak like a woman who would allow a man to abuse her, but it is important to acknowledge that her story is still plausible. All too often abuse is perceived to be written all over someone’s face in bruised lips and darkened eyes, but not all signs are so easy to read. Sometimes you find it in a bright, young woman who can speak enthusiastically of her future but never of her past.