By Melanie Weir
How many different kinds of “falls” do we go through in life? That is the question that Anita Hollander asks, and attempts to answer, in her joyful and vivacious solo musical, “Spectacular Falls.” From the moment Ms. Hollander steps out onto the stage and hoists herself up onto an upright piano, mid‑song, you know that you’re in for a fun performance, full of confidence and whimsy.
One of the first things you notice, before the opening music even starts, is that Ms. Hollander is not alone onstage. Accompanying her is an ASL interpreter, whom she later joyfully identifies as her sister, Rev. Rachel Hollander. Throughout the show, she goes above and beyond how a performer normally interacts with an onstage translator, looking to her and playing off of her during nearly every number. Their lighthearted interactions‑two women performing a solo show in tandem‑exemplify the love and inclusion you see throughout the entire show.
Ms. Hollander’s opening number, also called “Spectacular Falls,” is a fast‑paced patter song, during which you realize exactly how many different types of “falls” there are‑falling down, falling out, falling in love, falling from grace, fall the season, and even Niagara Falls‑subversively setting up the central theme that falling is a big, and perhaps the biggest, part of our lives.
In “Just a Banana Peel Away” Ms. Hollander speaks to the elephant‑or, as she might prefer to call it, mermaid tail‑in the room: her prosthetic leg. She sings about her experiences as an accident‑prone person, and her revelation that anybody is just a banana peel away from having to live life much differently than they’re used to. She stumbled upon this realization when she tripped and fell in front of Ripley’s Believe It or Not (“I did not believe it!”) and broke her hand. Left with only two functioning limbs, she was frustrated, but ultimately inspired to write the very musical she is now performing, proving the point that she wrote in her note to the audience: “Each fall has a Gift inside of it.”
Conversely, in “Body of a Fighter,” she shows that sometimes, even when people expect you to, you don’t fall at all. At the beginning of the number, Ms. Hollander removes her prosthetic leg, and stands perfectly straight and balanced on a single leg for the entirety of the song. In a number that no doubt already requires great diaphragmatic support, she stays upright with barely a wobble, so much so that if the head of an audience member in front of you were to obscure her leg, she would appear to be floating. This physical feat, which even the most skilled of two‑legged singers would struggle to accomplish, demonstrates that resilience can be a superpower.
Now, although she could, Ms. Hollander does not spend the entirety of her show discussing what it’s like to live with only two or three functioning limbs. She mentions it outright only a few more times. In “Swimming in a Snowstorm,” she proclaims that having only one leg made her a mermaid, and gave her the magical ability to get acting work in an industry often reluctant to hire her. In the song “Non‑Negotiable,” she stresses the oft‑overlooked point that, just as physical injuries‑like the one to her hand‑take time to heal, so, too, do mental injuries, and injuries to the soul. This song serves as a transition into the themes of the rest of the show, where Ms. Hollander applies the positive outlook she learned to have about her injury to the rest of her life, and urges her audience to do the same.
The remaining numbers read as kind, sometimes kooky, motherly advice. A few seem slightly out of place, but even Ms. Hollander herself seemed aware of this. The musical is a testament to her advice‑sometimes it does not seem to make sense, but life as a whole often seems disjointed and nonsensical, until you find meaning in experiences after they’ve happened.
In each song, Ms. Hollander addresses a problem that people often need advice or consolation for‑the bittersweet nature of a beautiful relationship that had to end, how to deal with nagging anxieties or saying the wrong thing, loneliness when you’re someplace new‑and offers stories of experience, concluding with advice about what she’s learned, in the most fun and comforting of ways. Even when dealing with issues she doesn’t have solutions for, like the ordeal of processing 9/11, she has a level of sympathy and understanding that makes you feel consoled nonetheless.
Her advice is not always personal‑sometimes it is worldly. After all, her advice on how to deal with personal problems often extends to the rest of the world, and that advice is boiled down perfectly in the titles of the songs “Love is Love,” “Share the World,” and “Don’t Fall for Crap.” It all stems, she says, from advice she got from her father, namely to be kind, no matter what.
That little piece of advice is truly at the core of “Spectacular Falls”: be kind. To the world, to others, and most importantly, to yourself. The message that Ms. Hollander gives us in her brilliant, sometimes beautifully disjointed, show, is that you should not beat up on yourself for falling, because falling is a part of life. Her overarching advice is reminiscent of the old adage, “everything happens for a reason.” Not that everything that happens was destined to, necessarily, but that we should not look at the negatives in our lives as final. The human soul is made to be battered and bruised; that is what life is for. Ms. Hollander’s experiences teach us that when we fall in some way, we should give ourselves time to heal, then look for opportunities to learn or grow from it. “Spectacular Falls” is a kind, loving reminder that no matter what happens to us, we should tell ourselves, as Ms. Hollander puts it, “I’m gonna make it through this day.”
Written and Performed by Anita Hollander
September 22nd at 2:30 PM, September 23rd at 7 PM, September 27th at 7:30 PM, and November 16 at 2 PM
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Production
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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MELANIE WEIR is an actor, singer and writer, and a graduate of Seton Hall University’s Theatre and Creative Writing programs. She has spent the past several years trying on several new theatre hats, including directing, playwrighting, songwriting, and editing, with the tight-knit group from her college program. She has also established herself as a freelance writer, and has been published on various blogs and websites, including Business Insider.