Earlier this month, I wrote about the state of the family drama in relation to the tenth anniversary of August: Osage County. Specifically, my point was that the genre had been dishing out hammy cliches in the name of realism for so long that when August came along it solidified are expectations of those cliches and used them subversively enough to force the entire genre to move on. Awesome. Opinion expressed. American theatre singlehandedly brought to its knees. Case closed, right?
But even I could not have anticipated Rain’s Comin’ In, the “reading of a rural family drama” dropped by comedian Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Kroll Show) on her excellent podcast Call Chelsea Peretti Monday night.
The play was read at UCB Franklin, with Peretti structuring the reading as a developmental presentation by the “Playwright’s Horizons Theater,” complete with Peretti playing a nervous/gracious playwright version of herself. In the world of this reading, Peretti has won UCB’s prestigious playwriting contest, and soon thereafter received funding from the “PBS True American Visionary Grant,” “KQED Singularly Brilliant Mind Grant,” “Scientology Celebrity Center’s Celebrity Advancement Grant,” as well as an honorary degree from the Yale School of Drama.
But she stays humble as this reading is really for her to get honest, constructive feedback on Rain’s Comin’ In (a play “about a family in a small town, but it’s about all of us”) enlisting Kate Berlant (Teri-Ann), John Early (Cooper), Xosha Roquemore (Evangeline), Esther Povitsky (Lilly-Mae), Emily Spivey (C.B.), Yassir Lester (Buck) and Moshe Kasher (Daddy’s Ghost) to help her tell her story, with Dave King reading stage directions.
It is perfect. Everything from Peretti and the cast’s nauseatingly self-important attitude toward the entire thing to the Q&A that closes the show (the audience actually lobs some pretty hilarious questions their way) lacerates every stage of the play development process. Rain’s Comin’ In is a miserably and hysterically overwrought play, full of empty revelations, hacky, repetitive exposition, condescending local flair and bizarre symbolism revolving around an espresso machine. John Early is particularly tragic as the (not gay) Brick-esque alcoholic son of Peretti (Mama), lounging on the couch in his bedazzled jeans.
The reading is breathlessly funny enough on its own, and theatre fans will also appreciate the various nods, references, and increasingly specific cliches. But what makes Rain’s Comin’ In such good satire is that it’s not too far off from many plays getting written, produced, and rewarded all around the country. Insofar as these cliches still pass as truth-telling in theaters around the country, Rain’s Comin’ In actually launches the best offensive yet in the mission to move on. It’s so good I can’t even get into it all here. It’s the kind of thing you just have to hear for yourself. Peretti should be incredibly proud, and not just because Tennessee Williams’ granddaughter was in the audience.