By Beki Pineda

SMOKEFALL. Written by Noah Haidle; directed by Rachel Rogers. Produced by Benchmark Theatre (performed at the Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan St., Denver) through December 23, 2017. Tickets available at 720-946-1388 or benchmarktheatre.com.

Benchmark Theatre productions certainly engender post-show conversations. Their first show, THE NETHER, involved enough optical allusions and sideways glances into forbidden territory to cause unease while watching and fevered conversations after. SMOKEFALL is not as controversial, moves at a more leisurely pace, and explores a more universal picture of life.

The premise—boldly stated several times—is that “the greatest act of courage is to love.” The courage it takes to enter into a loving relationship of any nature is explored with all its ramifications. A woman has love for her failing father, her silent daughter, her insecure husband. She has enough love to hold her family together forever, if only she could control human nature. Even her unborn children voice their concerns about entering into the cycle of “a little bit of noise between two silences.” Like the eternal families of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN or THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, one familial household can represent a larger existence, a universal humanity reflected in everyday acts of affection and domesticity.

This is not to suggest that SMOKEFALL is a dirge of gloomy solemnity.  It’s also a very funny play that lets the audience enjoy the irony and foibles of human existence.  Act Two is a standup routine between two unlikely comics trying to solve the univeral question — to be or not to be.

The daughter’s name is Beauty; by Act Three, Beauty has not aged while the other characters have become their older selves. But isn’t it a truism that the people we love always remain beauties to us? Could it be that the matter of a soul may get recycled into the next generation of people to love? That despite the fact that every love story is a tragedy, because the painful ending of separation is built into it from the beginning, it is still worth the pain?

The cast of five includes Matthew Blood-Smyth as the husband tied unwilling to a life he can no longer abide in spite of the love he feels; Sarah Brown, who has certainly grown into a Beauty since her last role as the annoying little Gloria in the Avenue Theater’s WAIT UNTIL DARK; John Hauser, who serves as the narrator of the first act, explaining the oddities in this family; Chris Kendall, whose take on the elder father suffering dementia finds joy in each newly remembered fact—over and over again; and Suzie Scott, whose love is the binding glue that holds the family together as long as possible. This multigenerational cast seems to have found their own answers for the universal questions asked, and invites you to explore your own.

WOW factor: 8.5