Anyone who has read or performed in any of Caryl Churchill’s plays knows one thing: her plays are really weird. Churchill, famous for Cloud 9 and Top Girls among other plays, always fiddles around with form; Escaped Alone and Here We Go are no exceptions. Frank Theatre’s program note cites Lucy Kirkwood on Churchill: “She is the only person writing today who says something new in both form and content every time she puts pen to paper.” When I found out that Frank Theatre would be doing some of her work, I didn’t realize a match could be made better.
I was very excited to see Escaped Alone and Here We Go. It was my first time seeing anything from this company and as I was in rehearsals for a Churchill play myself (the aforementioned Cloud 9), I considered this important research. After getting lost in the building, I made my way to the Gremlin Theatre. I was happily surprised to see it was a thrust stage, as my Churchill play was also in the thrust (Is this a common troupe for the staging of her plays? A question for another day.).
What struck me immediately was how simple everything was. It was a small, intimate house and the set (designed by Joseph Stanley) showed a gated English garden that looked so peaceful that I wanted to sit in it myself. However, I knew that Churchill didn’t write plays that were “peaceful” per say, so I was excited to see how the set would be used in the show.
Escaped Alone was the first play presented and I was immediately thrown off. I loved it, because I was expecting to be thrown off. The premise of the play is a woman sees three other women chatting in their garden and joins them. This seems innocuous. The women talk about all matter of things, from fears of cats, to one woman’s jail time, to idle chatter. All this would be occasionally interrupted by the neighbor speaking of a bizarre apocalypse to the audience.
The performances were splendid! It would honestly be a disservice to highlight only one or two, so I shall not. The actors (Cheryl Willis, Barbra Berlovitz, Janis Hardy, and Maria Asp) were all equally wonderful. I always watch how actors listen and interact with each other, and these four women functioned like a machine. The dialogue flowed at such a smooth pace and everyone was so focused. I loved watching these actors.
After the first act was over, the set shifted backwards and the stage got ready for act two. I can say that if the set shone in act one, the lighting (designed by Mike Wangen) dazzled in act two. The stage felt so alive and open, and the lighting seemed to evolve with the action onstage. When I watched act two, I found myself sometimes watching only the stage, because light would hit it a certain way.
The second act was Here We Go, and it was separated into three parts: Here We Go, After, and Getting There. This play was mostly focused on death, with each part highlighting a certain part of the process of dying, as shown by the section’s names.
Here We Go, the first act, focuses on five women at a funeral. They discuss many matters, occasionally punctuated by one of the women falling out of conversation and directly addressing the audience with the time and place of her death. I loved this part, as it made me so aware of life and death and how short everything really is.
The second part, After, was alright. It was a one-man performance starring Patrick Bailey. This one was a little hard to grasp, as Bailey’s frantic movements sometimes meant I couldn’t hear him. It seemed really interesting, however, and Bailey was giving it his all.
The third part, Getting There, was just plain fascinating. It was so simple and wonderful. Bailey returned, but with a caretaker played by Charla Marie Bailey (who also starred in Escaped Alone). We witness the mundane activity of an older man and his caretaker. Not a word was said, and of the actions are super exciting. We watch him just getting him out of bed and into bed. And I loved this. Believe or not, this is when I was at the edge of my seat. Being forced to look at what everyone’s life is probably going to end up being like moved me more than anything else this night.
As I left the Gremlin Theatre, my mind was nourished and my soul seemed to be recognized. I urge anyone to catch the remainder of this run.
Escaped Alone and Here We Go close September 29th at the Gremlin Theatre. You can get tickets here.