THE BASICS: FAR AWAY, a 2000 play by Caryl Churchill presented by Torn Space, directed by Dan Shanahan runs through March 10, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., plus Sunday March 11 at 7:30 at the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, 612 Fillmore Avenue (near Paderewski). (812-1733).www.tornspacetheater.com Parking available next to the building and directly across Fillmore. Cozy full-service bar. Runtime: 70 minutes in three scenes without intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: A dystopian play in three acts without pause, we follow grade-school Young Joan, who is told to deny her reality by a trusted adult (Aunt Harper), to her early career as a factory milliner (now in denial herself that she is making hats for prisoners who are to be executed and burned, along with their hats) to the final chaos where everything, including nature (various animals and the weather) is politicized as the world is at war with itself. The underlying emotion is fear.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: If you are expecting a nice little story with clearly delineated characters, motives, and plot, well… this is Torn Space Theatre we’re talking about, where “disturbing” is always center stage.
I was reminded of a college friend who described himself as a “conscious paranoid.” What’s that? “I think people are out to get me, and they really are!” If you get that joke, then you’re ready to see FAR AWAY.
So, to be clear, it would be wise to look up FAR AWAY online before you go to the theater and familiarize yourself with as much as you can because, to quote local critic Anthony Chase: “Caryl Churchill is not a model of clarity.”
Having said that, the cast and crew at Torn Space have done a first-rate job in interpreting this edgy play in which the stage directions are unusually sparse. So, much of the credit must go to Director Dan Shanahan for as-clear-as-Caryl-Churchill-can-be believable dialog and to Scenographer Kristina Siegel for visually arresting sets.
The first set, a sort of “white room” is on rockers, so that every movement of the two actors on stage (Bonnie Jean Taylor as Aunt Harper and 9th grader Allison Barsi as Young Joan) creates a major or minor upheaval below their very footing. Earthquake survivors speak of the feeling of utter helplessness and disorientation when the earth moves beneath your feet. It would seem that the playwright is constantly going for those feelings. With this set we can visually see the discomfort of young Joan who, having just witnessed violent acts committed by her uncle, is now even more distressed by the lies her Aunt Harper tells to cover it all up. I saw an homage to “The Handmade’s Tale” in the outfits worn during this opening scene.
There are other parts of different sets that were equally disturbing, perhaps the most so was a transport mechanism that moved the prisoners as if they were mere carcasses across the stage to where they could join “the parade” marching to their execution.
In the production older Joan is played by high school senior Corinne McLoughlin and her friend/co-worker Todd is played by Kalub Thompson. First rate performances by all four actors.
Should you go? Definitely. Why? Because confusing and disturbing as the 70 minutes were, this is a play that will stay with you.
Lead image: Corinne McLoughlin on the swing, Kalub Thompson and Bonnie Jean Taylor | Photos by Torn Space
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!