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Off Broadway

Escaped Alone: Tea and Catastrophe on a Sunny British Afternoon

Escaped Alone: Tea and Catastrophe on a Sunny British Afternoon
Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson. Photo by Richard Termine

A lady turned to her husband in the audience and said, “It’s only 50 minutes long, and no intermission…Doesn’t seem worth it, coming all the way out here to Brooklyn, does it?”

Linda Bassett

With all due respect, this lady couldn’t be more wrong. Although lacking in minutes, Escaped Alone is a captivating exploration of friendship, isolation and catastrophe and even with its short running time, it is indeed satisfying. Caryl Churchill opens this Royal Court Theatre transplant with such a gleeful hello and entrance into her sunny backyard world that you happily go along with that character through the gate. Once through, you find yourself planted happily along side four ladies listening and observing to their world where they chat, reminisce, and seemingly engage lovingly with one another. But are they friends or just neighbors who are friendly? There seems to be a compassionate air surrounding the bunch; a knowing of each other, laced with a sweet and dry humor, although we never quite know how intimate they are with one another. The conversation, as directed by James Macdonald, represents both a fond engagement but also a protected disconnect where each secretly hide truths deep inside. Those truths are a  place of escape and isolation, possibly due to fear, discomfort, or anger, but that place also gives them comfort and internal safety.

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson. Photo by Richard Termine

Interspersed throughout the backyard chatter, one of the ladies, a Mrs. Jarrett (the most wonderful Linda Bassett), finds herself in a black void somewhere between us and them. After a moment of startling neon framework flashes (spectacular lighting design by Peter Mumford and sound design by Christopher Shutt), Mrs. Jarrett shockingly describes a post apocalyptic world of death, destruction, starvation, and displacement. Etched in details both graphically horrific and ridiculous, Bassett delivers these scenarios with an impeccable seriousness and straightforwardness, but also, sneaking onto the side of her face is a crooked smile to accompany some of the more outlandish claims. It’s a magnificent piece of theatrical engagement by Bassett that is disconcerting, perplexing, and thoroughly exciting.

Linda Bassett

Linda Bassett
Photo by- Richard Termine

Is this her internal sanctuary where she finds distraction and pleasure away from the generic chatter of the real world where intimacy is faked and friendships are superficial? Does she feel safe in this gaggle of ladies? Or something else? The other three ladies, all impeccable in their delivery and demeanor (Deborah Findlay as Sally; Kika Markham as Lena; June Watson as Vi) seem lovely and kind, but each have a moment of subtle conflict with another.  More importantly, each one has a internal disclosure and confessional that is both powerfully real and exposing. The piece holds us tightly. In the lighter moments (i.e. the sight of these four coaxing each other through the singing of an old classic song is priceless) we join in their backyard reverie (a perfect set design by Miriam Buether), but it is in the darker moments where the richness in their vulnerability, defenselessness, and ruination are the most thrilling to witness.

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson Photo by Richard Termine

What is Churchill trying to tell us as we flip back and forth from sunny backyard chatter to descriptive apocalyptic scenarios?  There is a level of escapism that seeps through all the dialogue, especially the internal personal soliloquies, when we get the sense that all these ladies, although pleasant enough, hold a deeper darker version of themselves. They have all experienced different versions of private ruination that they are still struggling to cope with. This is especially true for Mrs. Jarrett although hers may be harder to pin down.  The glimpse inside her unsaid chatter is almost as scary to behold as the future she describes inside the black void, although it is less vivid.  These ladies take great comfort from their backyard chatter, just as much as we do observing them.  Churchill seems to be saying that in the end we are all still alone, barely escaping our personal and private catastrophes.  When Mrs. Jarrett finally bids adieu, we also must say our goodbyes.  It’s joyous in that moment, and we owe that to the delicious work of all, especially Bassett, but the seeds of distress linger in our minds, giving us plenty to chew on as we make our way out into the darkness of the night, with the others, but alone in our thoughts.

So for more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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