Western Gold Theatre at the PAL Studio Theatre, until Nov. 17
My Two Cents
Caryl Churchill has the market cornered on unsettling poetic imagery. She’s also perfected the portrayal of women sitting around talking. Western Gold Theatre’s take on Escaped Alone is a masterclass in both.
Four older women (played by Tanja Dixon-Warren, Jenn Griffin, Anna Hagan and Eileen Barrett) sit around in a garden, having tea and making small talk. Interspersed with the biscuits and banter, Dixon-Warren spouts a vivid and disturbing vision of the apocalypse, like a modern book of Revelations. It’s a powerful juxtaposition. Dixon-Warren makes a formidable anchor, and with the subtle and measured designs of John Webber (lighting) and Stephen Bulat (sound) we are taken right there, into our own horrific future with alarming clarity. A monstrous tree and strewn debris (courtesy of set designer Glenn MacDonald) complete the picture.
The show has plenty of sweet and funny moments, too. Director Kathryn Bracht has given these women room to play and enjoy each other. Each woman has her moment to delve deep and show us what is going on under the surface. Eileen Barrett’s cat monologue in particular had me entranced by her gradual build into near-mania. Again, Dixon-Warren shines here with an intense inner struggle that was incredibly moving to witness.
A few very minor quibbles - Churchill can be challenging as her dialogue requires a certain level pacing to really feel organic. It was there for the most part, but I could tell that a few cues were, if not dropped, left to linger a bit too long. Accents were hit-and-miss, but that doesn’t exactly affect the performances. Also, the play itself is quite short. This isn’t a failing per se, as the concept would probably not hold in a two-act play, but it left me wanting more. How often do we get plays that explore the rich inner lives of older women, each one complex and distinct from each other?
Escaped Alone is weird and challenging, short and sweet. It’s about the minutiae that occupy our conversations, all the things we don’t say, and the realities we keep pushing down and refuse to acknowledge. You’ll have questions. It’ll make you think and wonder, about the future, and about the women who so often pass through the world unnoticed. It’s a devastating little miracle of a play.