Far Away, by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Morgan Green. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"It's like the elephants went over to the Dutch."
If you don't like Caryl Churchill you are considered dull. Meet a dull guy. I have never been taken by her particular style of play writing. I have to think that someone at the Sharon Playhouse also doesn't care much for her work as there is nothing about the author in the program for her play "Far Away" which is now on stage in the Bok Gallery, their second stage. Let me fill you in on this British playwright.
Born in 1938 in London, she is best known for dramatising the abuses of power, for her use of non-naturalistic techniques, and for her exploration of sexual politics and feminist themes. Her best known works are "Cloud Nine" (1979), "Top Girls" (1982), and her translation of August Strindberg's "A Dream Play" (2005). This play was written in 2000 and it runs just about 44 minutes. It is a three character play performed by four people with a chorus (here) of 17 people who perform a parade of hats about three quarters of the way through. The parade is terrific.
The play is less than terrific. If alienation is your thing, though, you may cotton to this piece. Let me sum up some of the high points for you. Young Joan (Madelynn Peterson) can't sleep - some noises outside have awakened her. She comes to ask her aunt Harper (Mia Katigbak) about what's going on. End of Act One. In Act Two an adult Joan (Madeline Wise) is an apprentice hat maker working with Todd who is a master at the craft. He (played by Gabriel Levey) begins to care about the apprentice who clearly has talent for hat-making. She grows in her craft. End of Act Two. Act Three. Joan, who went out a window in Act One, enters through a window. End of the play.
Naturally there is more than just this but I think it is a good summation of the highpoints of the play - except for the parade. To relate the actual facts of the matter will remove any reason to see the show, for you must discover for yourself what Churchill is writing about. She explores depths of human reason. She plays with the realities of war and its aftermath. She vomits up incomprehensible non-facts (this was written long before Donald Trump discovered fake facts) about societal alterations. She parades more than just hats in this brief play; she trots out hard to handle truths.
Everyone in the play is marvelous. They perform Caryl Churchill as though what she has written truly matters and as though without her revealed truths we will all be lost. There is an importance about this production that has come from the four actors, the author and the director Morgan Green who has added a highly stylized set of production values and performance stylings.
Still, the experience was, for me, less satisfying and more trivializing. I wish I liked the play. I liked everything else including Carolyn Mraz's set and Asta Bennie Hostetter's costumes and Oona Curley's evocative lighting which was enhanced by the sound design of Peter Mills Weiss. I liked it all. But Churchill's manner of writing leaves me a bit cool and feeling trivialized or marginalized by her genius. Others around me liked it all. I didn't. I'm sorry. And I admire this theater for taking on such an amazingly different sort of play.
Madelynn Patterson and Mia Katigback; photo: provided
Gabreiel Levey and Madeline Wise; photo: provided
Gabriel Levey; photo: provided
Far Away plays in the Bok Gallery at the Sharon Playhouse, 49 Amenia Road, Sharon Connecticut through July 23. For information and tickets call the box office at 860-364-7469, ext. 201 or go on line at sharonplayhouse.org.