Last night, pushing halfway into the run, Alumnae Theatre’s production of George F. Walker’s: Escape From Happiness hosted a group of about twenty attentive audience members (apart from the one disrespectful canker on the roof of our collective mouth, intermittently pouring on the figurative lemon juice with wrapper crinkling).
The family drama in this “celebration of the underclass” plays out in a typical, well-lived home, with just enough teetering design as to leave the audience off kilter, and with no illusions regarding the state of the family dwelling within – broken and on edge as it is.
The play, distinctly set in the 90′s, is well designed both in set and costuming: the vibrant, shoulder padded, bordering-on-neon colours, grunge-plaid, and high-wasted jeans are so accurately used, it is as if one is transported back to those days before public internet, texting, tweeting, and all that other stuff we used to get on fine without.
A mash of explicit 90′s (and one song that specifically states it’s 2005 during the intermission) hip hop tunes seems to mirror the language barrier between mother and daughter between certain scenes in the play, but for a surety, the constant stammering use and stilted form of the music very accurately mirrors the action on stage.
Pacing back and forth, as to make the audience dizzy or dazzled (one cannot tell), many of the characters seemed to find themselves in places without purpose – a true actor’s nightmare. This may very well be the genius of director Andrea Wasserman as, perhaps, not the actors, but the characters themselves begin to ask “What am I doing here?”, but so active is the stage that one cannot guess who is asking that question.
Regarding movement, the stage violence seemed, alternately, crossing the border of unbelievable buffoonery, and taking that dooming dip to the dangerous. Thrown, face-first, hands bound in front, from a shopping cart, perilously towards the edge of the stage, for only one example, much time was spent on edge not for care of the fictional family’s outcome, but indeed for the safety of the actors (and audience, when boxes began to be thrown haphazardly downstage and into the seats).
Applause must go to Lesley Robertson (Mary Ann) for her wonderful commitment as the family mystic. Her interest in clown is apparent when watching her smile or sulk; skip or slump. There is a fearfully positive performance stretched over her character, underneath which stews a darker world.
Kudos also to Robert Skanes (Rolly) for taking constant beatings (silly or serious) throughout the piece, and leaving the stage with enough dignity for a final, fearful “Fuck you!”.
*For dates and ticket information, click HERE.