Free staged readings of We All Fall Down, by Esther Rodriguez, were performed on April 21 and 22 at the Arellano Theater in Levering Hall. The Hub event page provides a short blurb of the plot of the play: “Six months after Amanda Lewis-Ramirez’s suicide attempt, she and her family must redefine their relationships with each other in light of the secrets they’ve been keeping.”
The play, which focuses on an east coast middle-class nuclear family, stars Daria Ramos-Izquierdo as Amanda Lewis-Ramirez, a high school senior going through therapy and taking medication for clinical depression and potentially other conditions. (Her full diagnosis is left open-ended.)
Amanda struggles not only with said therapy and treatment, but also with navigating her family: her father, mother and younger brother. In fact, the whole family wrestles with their daily lives and with each other.
The father (Matt Mullner) juggles his day job with his family life back home and is confused by Amanda’s mental-illness-related behaviors, often reacting impulsively and controllingly toward his daughter.
The mother (Allie Zito) is a stay-at-home mother who is dissatisfied with her role. She earnestly manages both the home and her two children, especially Amanda’s therapy and medication needs, but she is often overwhelmed and confused by the situation.
The younger brother, Aiden (Harry Cohen), is 14 and, while well-meaning, is ignorant about what Amanda is going through. The drama focuses mainly on the dynamics of the family and shows that even a well-meaning family can face difficulties communicating with one another when a member is living with a mental illness.
Amanda undergoes many ordeals — managing therapy, taking (or rejecting) meds that don’t work for her, seeking support and understanding from her family, waiting for college admissions results, and her complicated relationship with her friend Janie (whom Amanda has been banned from seeing by her father).
The audience gets glimpses of Amanda’s thoughts and reactions to the developments when she is with her family, but it is only through a series of intimate monologues to her therapist that Amanda confides (facing the audience) what she does not share, even with her family. Here we see her true thoughts, the taboo ones that she does not express publicly — as uninhibited and honest as she is able to be throughout the play — and in the process, we gain a little bit more insight into the inner-life of a high schooler dealing with mental illness.
Other sensitive topics like self-harm and suicide come up repeatedly throughout the play. Amanda has a tin box, in which she hides the razors that she uses to self-harm. The suicide attempt she made six months prior to the beginning of the narrative haunts her family; the audience realizes that it has been lurking beneath their lives as it surfaces at several critical moments in the play. This tension helps to create some of the most chilling moments.
The play ends with a kind of qualified optimism. The family is better at communicating. Amanda chooses a college she is happy with, but she still has to seek treatment for her mental illness and keep her grades up. She may get a chance to see her friend Janie again. Amanda’s mother has decided to teach, in addition to housework duties. Aiden probably gets the soccer gear that he wants.
All in all, We All Fall Down provides a balance of relatable, funny family moments and the fear, sorrow, exhaustion and frustration associated with mental illness. In the booklet provided by Rodriguez, she writes, “The reality of it is, talking about mental illness is hard. You start with a sentence and somehow you end up with something 300 words too short and yet thousands too long...”
However, Esther Rodriguez manages to provide a compelling and sympathetic look into the life of someone who is trying to survive with mental illness and deftly captures the difficult dynamics of a family trying to make sense of things within that chaos.