Tea time at the end of the world in the surreal, intimate, unsettling Escaped Alone

Clockwise, from bottom left: Brenda Robins, Clare Coulter, Maria Vacratsis & Kyra Harper. Set & costume design by Teresa Przybylski. Lighting design by Jennifer Lennon. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

 

Soulpepper and Necessary Angel, with an all-female cast and production team, take us to the edge of calamity—in a suburban backyard where four 70-something neighbours chat over tea before the impending apocalypse—with the Canadian premiere of Caryl Churchill’s surreal, intimate and unsettling Escaped Alone, directed by Jennifer Tarver and running at the Young Centre.

Gathered in a backyard, Mrs. Jarrett (Clare Coulter), Vi (Brenda Robins), Lena (Kyra Harper) and Sally (Maria Vacratsis) share gossip, memories and catch up. There are children and grandchildren to update about, and changes to the landscape of local shops to recall and relay—especially for Vi, who’s been away for six years. And amidst the candid and intimate conversation, where one can finish another’s sentence and the short-hand is such that sentences sometimes don’t even need to be finished, each woman breaks out to share her inner world. Her fears, her regrets, her reminiscences.

It is in these moments that we see another side of these otherwise sociable, animated women. Mrs. Jarrett is a walking, talking 21st century Book of Revelations, in which the everyday and the terrifying combine in an absurd, horrific and dark-humoured alchemy. Vi, a hairdresser by trade, may or may not have killed her husband in self-defence; and, while Sally acknowledges the complexity of their situation, she has a different take on that fateful moment. Sally struggles with her own demons: her efficacy in her career as a health care professional and her fear of cats. And the sensitive Lena looks back on her life as an office worker with mixed feelings of vague, wistful regret and amazement at time flown by.

Told through a collage of conversation, memory, musings and peaks into these women’s interior lives, the mundanity and complexity of everyday life—juxtaposed with the absurdity of meeting over tea in the face of impending catastrophe—is both darkly funny and chilling. The uncertainty of what comes next—whether it’s impending calamity threatening the world at large or the aging mind in a life of transition—while these four women are gathered together in friendship, each faces her mortality alone.

Compelling, sharply drawn work from the ensemble, from Coulter’s grouchy, pragmatic Mrs. Jarrett; to Robins’ edgy, irreverent Vi; Harper’s nervous, child-like Lena; and Vacratsis’ earnest, uneasy Sally. Teresa Przybylski’s minimalist set combines four ordinary, but different, chairs with hundreds of white paper birds, frozen in murmuration, suspended above; and is nicely complemented by Verne Good’s understated, haunting sound design. The effect is magical, disturbing and ultimately theatrical.

Escaped Alone continues at the Young Centre until November 25. Get advance tickets online or call the box office: 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188.

Check out the production teaser:

And have a look at this great Intermission piece by actor Maria Vacratsis, as told to Bailey Green.

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A topsy-turvy look at the bizarre dynamics of the corporate world in entertaining Fever/Dream

Full Cast Promo PhotoOut at the theatre one more time last night – this time, to The Jumblies Ground Floor for Seven Siblings Theatre’s Canadian premiere of Sheila Callaghan’s Fever/Dream, directed by Will King, assisted by Madryn McCabe. I saw Seven Siblings’ dramatic, violent and compelling production of Mercury Fur last year – and this exciting young company goes for the edge while venturing into the comic side of a surreal world in Fever/Dream.

An adaptation of Pedro Calderón’s Life Is a Dream, Callaghan set Fever/Dream in present-day America, where the king is President Bill Basil (Mladen Obradovic), the head of a corporate empire in his 77-foot tall office tower palace.

It is in the bowels of the tower that we first see Segis, our young protagonist (Trevor Ketcheson), seated and unconscious at his desk. His hair and beard long and unkempt, his clothing torn and filthy, he resembles a castaway more than an office worker. Prisoner, more like it. The phone receiver seems permanently attached to his hand and he is chained to the desk, his daily food rations dispensed from a trap door in the wall near the ceiling. The only words he can seem to speak are the scripted lines of apology and transfer action – he is a customer service rep. His lack of human contact becomes apparent with the arrival of Rose (Olivia Orton) and Claire (Alexandra Simpson), who’ve become lost in the building. The two girls are soon busted by the office manager Fred (Dylan Mawson) and are sentenced to working in the office.

President Bill Basil is seriously ill and has decided to retire; but instead of passing the reins to his two top managers Stella (Geneviève Trottier) and Aston (Peter Jarvis), he has decided to pass the job along to his secret son, with Stella and Aston as Plan B. Guess who the secret son is. Add to the mix a chorus of multitasking actors playing security guards, accountants and vlogging associates (Karina Bradfield, Zenna Davis-Jones and Courtney Keir), and you have a recipe for a wacky tale of chain reaction events and secrets revealed in a crazy, satirical look at corporate culture.

King and McCabe have a sharp, engaging cast for this underdog trip down the rabbit hole – or, in this case, up the office tower. Ketcheson does a marvelous job as Segis, going from a feverish grasping for language and meaning to rising up as he discovers love and purpose; lost and disoriented, he struggles to find his way even as he grapples with his own emotions in a strange new world. And is it all even real? Orton gives Rose a sharp sense a drive and commitment; wry-witted and resourceful, she too has a secret agenda and is forced to deal with a surprise discovery of her own. As Rose’s chirpy roommate Claire, Simpson does a bang-up job as the super positive and loyal sidekick, transferring these skills to her job as the perfect office temp; but when she realizes that hers is a Sisyphean task, that bubbly personality boils over. Jarvis is a slick piece of work as Aston, the classic all sizzle and no steak equation, but with people skills that complement Stella, who is more qualified but short on soft skills. Trottier shines as Stella, a brilliant but icy dragon lady, a Harvard and Wharton grad frustrated by corporate sexism, and finding herself melting into her warm feelings for the new boss. Obradovic brings a regal ruthlessness to Basil, moved by vengeance to disown and banish his own son to the basement, only to promote the unprepared Segis in an act of hubris in order to continue his bloodline. As Basil’s right-hand man Fred, Mawson is a chilling master of corporate speak, executing Basil’s every whim and cleaning up messes with clock-like precision and accuracy; but, like Stella, he is not without a soft spot.

Chorus members Bradfield, Davis-Jones and Keir are multitasking machines, executing set changes in character and shifting from security detail to accountants to vlogging 20-something associates and back again with skill and style; they may be representing the lowly drones of the business – but work doesn’t get done without worker bees. And their daily workday lives of white noise get turned up to 11 when they find inspiration in Segis.

Whether peasant or king – worker drone or president – we all must come to grips with our own mortality. Absolute power corrupts absolutely – so aptly illustrated in Segis’s caricature behaviour in his brief time as president, becoming a tyrant despite his good intentions.

With shouts to some excellent staging and design. The white, sterile set with its secret doors (Stephen King); the back scrim projections (Will King) of skyline and industrial cogs add to the surreal, industrial atmosphere; and the hopeful sound of water burbles up through white noise, and office machine lights, beeps and squeals (Parker Nowlan). The slow, romantic ocean fantasy sequences (choreographer Rosslyn King) and retirement party pandemonium (fight choreographer Annemieke Wade) are highly evocative and entertaining, moving and dream-like.

Fever/Dream is a topsy-turvy look at the bizarre dynamics of the corporate world, fueled by a fine, high-energy cast.

Fever/Dream continues at The Jumblies Ground Floor until May 31. NOTE: Jumblies is located at 132 Fort York Blvd., a bit east of Bathurst – Google searches may direct you to the Scarborough location and Google Maps shows the address as west of Bathurst (don’t go there!). You can purchase advance tix online here.