Escaped Alone: But we’re in this together

 

 

Western Gold Theatre is presenting Escaped Alone at PAL.

Lena (Anna Hagan), Vi (Jenn Griffin), and Sally (Eileen Barrett) pretend life is normal — even though the world is burning. (Photo by Javier Sotres)

Go see this show. Because you should never ever turn down a chance to see a play by Caryl Churchill. She’s been one of the most exciting dramatists in the world for the last 40 years, and she will fuck you up — and reward you — every single time.

In Escaped Alone, Churchill takes on the coming apocalypse.

Off the top, Mrs. Jarrett peeks through a wooden wall, then steps inside and finds herself in a garden with three other old women. They’re British. They’re drinking tea. They’re chatting. And the world is collapsing.

Mrs. Jarrett seems to come from a time after the apocalypse. In a series of monologues during which the rest of the stage darkens, she delivers fantastic — and often fantastically funny — accounts of floods, starvation, winds, and plague. Describing the windstorms, she says, “Buildings migrated from London to Lahore, Kyoto to Kansas City, and survivors were interned for having no travel documents. Some in the whirlwind went higher and higher, the airsick families taking selfies in case they could ever share them.” My favourite line is about famine: “The hunger began when 80% of the food was diverted to TV programs.”

Churchill is obsessed with language and, for me, Escaped Alone is about our inability to find the mental capacity — the existential clarity — that would allow us to take the action necessary to reduce the devastation of global warming. With Mrs. Jarrett along for the ride, Vi, Lena, and Sally, chat aimlessly about TV shows, what kinds of birds they’d like to be, and which superpowers they’d prefer.

Still, underneath their mental fog, they’re feeling the same slurry of terrors as the rest of us — although those feelings are often tied to other aspects of their lives. Sally experiences her panic, for instance, as a phobia of cats. Lena’s depression and ennui float to the surface when she’s talking about her old office job.

I should probably say it again: a lot of this is funny. Vi specializes in guilt because she killed her abusive husband. Apparently, the knife just happened to be in her hand when she decided to strike back. In a juxtaposition that’s typical of the script, the others are singing the joys of kitchens when Vi makes her contribution: “You can’t love a kitchen if you’ve killed someone in a kitchen.”

So the script is terrific in an uplifting, alarming kind of way and we should all thank Tanja Dixon-Warren, the new artistic director of Western Gold Theatre, for choosing it.

Under Kathryn Bracht’s direction, the production is good enough that it doesn’t obscure the script, but it doesn’t fully illuminate it either.

Some of the accents are stupidly bad. Anna Hagan, who’s playing Lena, barely seems to be trying: she throws in an English vowel every now and then but they are so random. Jenn Griffin gives Vi an inconsistent accent too. She’s pretty much on the mark during Vi’s monologue, but her accent wanders everywhere else. Dixon-Warren is more successful, making Mrs. Jarrett vaguely Liverpudlian. But the only character with a convincing voice is Eileen Barrett’s Scottish Sally.

Fortunately, the emotional characterizations are more successful. Again, Barrett is the stand-out: her delivery of Sally’s cat monologue is a beautifully crafted miniature of panic. And Dixon-Warren is slyly insinuating as Mrs. Jarrett.

Glenn MacDonald’s set, which juxtaposes a tidy little garden of AstroTurf with a tree covered in plastic waste — presumably from the rising oceans — is handsome on its own terms.

But I wish that director Kathryn Bracht had made a clearer decision about time. In her interpretation, the conversations in the garden seem to be both post- and pre-apocalyptic. MacDonald’s tree is definitely post, but the characters refer to shopping at Tesco (a grocery chain) and they’re eating store-bought biscuits. I appreciate that Churchill’s script is open to free interpretation, but my sense is that a clearer directorial decision would yield a more satisfying experience.

Still, the interpretive artists have taken care with this production and it yields many pleasures: lots of laughs and just the right amount of nausea.

ESCAPED ALONE By Caryl Churchill. Directed by Kathryn Bracht. A Westerm Gold Theatre production. At the PAL Theatre on Saturday, November 2. Continues until November 17. Tickets.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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