BWW Review: ESCAPED ALONE at Signature Theatre
Escaped Alone, British playwright Caryl Churchill's latest play, originally premiered at The Royal Court Theatre Downstairs in 2016. Three years later, Churchill's play is making its Signature Theatre debut. The play focuses four women - Lena (Brigid Cleary), Vi (Catherine Flye), Sally (Helen Hedman), and Mrs. Jarrett (Valerie Leonard) as they chit chat over biscuits and tea in Sally's garden. The "tea talk" is interspersed with glimpses into a world experiencing the apocalypse. Signature Theatre's Escaped Alone, directed by Holly Twyford, is like a surreal Golden Girls episode with British humor.
Escaped Alone packs a lot of emotion into a short 50 minutes. The intensity of the emotions presented onstage is overwhelming. Throughout the play, Cleary, Flye, Hedman, and Leonard portray a wide spectrum of emotions from joy to sorrow. The cast makes these women real like the beloved Golden Girls. They brag about their children and grandchildren. They joke about soccer and sing Petula Clark's "Downtown." Each woman has her own struggles, whether it is with their families or internal. As the sun sets, their innermost thoughts are revealed. Flye's gripping monologue about Vi dealing with the death of her husband and her estranged son is heart-wrenching. Hedman's portrayal of Sally's fear of cats is at first comical, but then mounts into a swell of anxiety about cats hiding everywhere. Cleary captures Lena's depression and sense of isolationism during a monologue about how she can't get out of bed until noon and would rather be by herself than with her friends or family. While the details of Lena, Vi, and Sally's lives are revealed, Ms. Jarrett remains a mysterious narrator who guides the audience through details of an apocalypse unseen.
Leonard's performance as Ms. Jarrett is haunting and unforgettable. As tears stream down her face, Leonard's Ms. Jarrett becomes a knowledgeable witness to what is to come in the future - disease, starvation, floods, and fire. There is a satirical layer to these numerous apocalyptic scenarios, such as the different colors of gas masks marketed to those exposed to dangerous chemicals, which reaffirms Churchill's dry humor. While Ms. Jarrett's stories about the future are peculiar, disturbing, and attention-grabbing, it doesn't seem to fit in with the overall narrative of Churchill's story. The audience is drawn into one world and then is snapped back out of it into the other with the swish of the white curtain. It is an exhausting jog between two worlds, but worth the whiplash.
Like the performances of the cast, Signature Theatre's production is beautifully done. The set, designed by Paige Hathaway, is a simple yet elegant British garden. The realism of the garden provides stability. A white curtain is used to divide Ms. Jarrett and the audience from the realism of the garden. It is again simple, but effective as it creates a separation between the worlds. The lighting, designed by Maria Shaplin, provides a complimentary ambiance to the play's mood as there are shifts in the sunlight from mid-afternoon sun to sunset.
Before you know it, tea time is suddenly over and you are left wondering about what is in store in the future for Lena, Vi, Sally, and Ms. Jarrett.
Running Time: 50 minutes with no intermission