Other than death and taxes, failure might be the thing people spend their life most trying to avoid. But Philip Dawkins decided to sit with it a while for his newest play “Failure: A Love Story” at Victory Gardens Theater, investigating the emotional growth one gains through challenges.
It’s 1928 in Chicago and the Fail sisters live above their family-owned clock shop with their socially awkward brother John N. (a sweet Michael Salinas). Immediately we learn that the excitable Nellie Fail (a charismatic Baize Buzan), competitive Jenny-June Fail (an intense Emjoy Gavino) and stalwart Gerti Fail (a complex Mildred Marie Langford) die young by blunt object, disappearance and consumption, respectively. The beginning expository scenes blast past in a rapid, almost confusing, pace but things slow (a bit) once Mortimer Mortimer (a charming Matt Fletcher) enters, the man who will love each Fail sister and whom each Fail sister will love in turn, the man who will lose each of his loves to an untimely death but will, somehow, impossibly endure.
Dawkins has created a rich world of magical realism full of talking animals and vivacious, opinionated clocks, requiring multi-talented actors who sing, play instruments, imitate animals, and make for convincing, quirky timepieces. The cast members even take turns crooning “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” as the resident gramophone.
There’s no room for subtlety in “Failure”. Desperation and urgency are palpable as Scott demonstrates the human spirit’s endurance and the ineluctable passage of time. “Failure” is a fun, complex play layered with history, fantasy, philosophy, poignancy and humor. Director Seth Bockley had a lot of choices to make, and with every move it feels like he made the right one. As the lights turn off and the players bow, John N. Fail’s wise observation is proven: “just because something ends, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great success.”