by Lynn on November 3, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Jennifer Tarver

Set and costumes by Teresa Przybylski

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Sound by Verne Good

Cast: Clare Coulter

Kyra Harper

Brenda Robins

Maria Vacratsis

Caryl Churchill’s play is about friendship, tea, catastrophe, secrets and just a touch of betrayal. The acting is superb in Jennifer Tarver’s challenging production.

 The Story. Escaped Alone was written by British Playwright Caryl Churchill one of the most prolific, provocative writers working today. It was produced in 2016 at the Royal Court in London, Eng.

Summer afternoon, but as the stage directions say, “A number of afternoons but the action is continuous.”

Three women friends—Vi, Lena and Sally–are sitting in chairs, talking and drinking lemonade, among other things, in Sally’s back yard.

Mrs. Jarrett is passing, notices an opening in the fence and recognizes the women in the yard. Sally says, “Is that you, Mrs. Jarrett?” and Mrs. Jarrett takes this to be an invitation to join them so she does.

The three friends talk in shards of sentences and finish each other’s sentences. They talk of difficult children, marriages in trouble, being locked out of the house and how one got back in. They remember times gone by, stores no longer there. They talk of a television series.

But then Mrs. Jarrett has several speeches that shows a world upside down or the result of a catastrophe. She says things like: “Rats were eaten by those who still had digestive systems and mushrooms were traded for urine”. Mrs. Jarrett’s speeches get more and more disturbing angry, and dire.

When Mrs. Jarrett returns to the other three we also see cracks in the relationships of the three women. They all know secrets about each other but here they seem to chip at then.

For example, Sally is afraid of and hates cats but some of the group insensitively plough ahead and mention cats with out considering Sally. Life is not that idyllic in that oasis of a back yard.

The Production. It’s such a tricky play. It’s dense in language, ideas and philosophy. It’s so vague and questions what is real and what isn’t.  How do you direct that?  Director Jennifer Tarver has the audience on either side of the playing area.

Four miss-matched chairs are in Sally’s back yard.  A canopy of paper birds hangs over head. There is the sound of birds singing. There is a pitcher of lemonade. Tarver has created a real world of bird song, real lemonade that the women sip from large glasses and later tea. To suggest the action takes place over different afternoons the women get up out of their chairs, change the positions of them in the yard and then sit in a different chair. At one point Vi (a forthright Brenda Robins) pours tea: first some milk in the cup (I love that smart touch as it might be prepared in England), then the tea, then one lump of sugar. The beauty of this simple bit of business is that the tea she is pouring is not for herself, it’s for Lena, and Vi knows how Lena takes her tea. Lena is played as a timid woman who can’t go out comfortably by Kyra Harper. Then Vi prepares her own cup of tea. Sally is played by Maria Vacratsis who is by turns, gracious to her guests and Mrs. Jarrett, agitated at the thought of cats and slighted that Vi would be so insensitive as to bring up cats in conversation, knowing how Sally hated them.

You can almost feel Clare Coulter as Mrs. Jarrett, listening so hard to what is being said. She turns to each woman as they speak, focusing, laser-stared in concentrated listening to get every word, every gesture, ready to join in and be included.

But there are moments in which Mrs. Jarrett separates herself from the women and only her face is illuminated in Jennifer Lennon’s eerie light and she gives her updating of a catastrophe that has befallen the outside world. These monologues are quiet, measured, and detail horrors that have happened to mankind and the environment. The other women seem protected or oblivious to it.

Comment.  Escaped Alone is the latest Caryl Churchill play to experiment in form and language. The Skriker certainly deals in disjointed dialogue. In Blue Heart characters substitute the word “kettle” where a more appropriate word would make sense, but interestingly we know what her intended meaning is in the sentence. Then there is Far Away perhaps a pre-cursor to Escaped Alone, about a world gone mad and war is everywhere in nature, the air and with humans. Churchill makes us listen hard and assess.

As with all of Caryl Churchill’s plays, I found Escaped Alone compelling and the production certainly had me engaged and questioning.

Soulpepper co-produced with Necessary Angel presents:

Opened: Nov. 1, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 25, 2018.

Running Time: 55 minutes.

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