By Kimberly Rau
The Gamm’s latest offering—Caryl Churchhill’s “Escaped Alone” juxtaposed with Samuel Beckett’s “Come and Go” (both directed by Tony Estrella)—might be short (under 90 minutes with no intermission) but is big on talent. Both short plays deal with the intricacies of friendship and the fears that plague us, whether those are small (cats) or major (the end of civilization as we know it).
In “Escaped Alone,” three longtime British friends are meeting in a back garden for tea when they notice a rather eccentrically dressed woman by the name of Mrs. Jarrett (Debra Wise) peering through the fence. Intrigued, they invite her to join them, and the next hour and change is spent in small talk, the kind of disjointed shorthand that happens between friends who know each other well, punctuated by outbursts from each woman that serves to let us see what lies beneath their cheerful exteriors. Jarrett’s asides are the most extreme–she paints us a picture of a post-apocalyptic society where “some children die from thirst, others from drinking the water” and food is rationed and given to television networks so starving citizens can watch reality-based cooking programs. It’s close enough to home to resonate with today’s population while still being bizarre enough to comfort us with its divorce from reality. The other women’s fears are varied: Vi (Mayra Lowry), who accidentally (or maybe not so inadvertently) killed her husband and lost touch with her family after going to jail, Lena (Carol Drewes) is battling crippling depression and Sally (Karen McDonald) has an OCD-like fear of cats.
The whole thing is set in an adorable, cheerful backyard. Nothing suggests the horrors in these women’s minds, and that’s the point. Do we ever really know what keeps someone up at night? Even when something is clear-cut, is it really as black and white as we want it to be? What happens when the problems get too big to handle, or can’t be remedied by a comforting touch or a joke from a friend?
All four women are brilliant in their roles, jumping from breakdown to jokes to, in one charming instance, four-part harmony, complete with watering can “horn section.” You could easily be listening to your aunts talking at Christmas, or imagine being a fly on the wall when your own group has a couple of beers and gets to reminiscing. Parts of it, namely Mrs. Jarrett’s increasingly horrific sci-fi narrative, make no sense, but that’s also the point: We are observing a moment in time, and are to take it for what it’s worth.
The 10-minute “Come and Go” features three of the same actresses (Wise is not in this one) sitting on the bench in shadows. We don’t see their faces. The dialogue repeats, as is Beckett’s hallmark, with each woman in turn gossiping behind another’s back when she leaves the room. The call and repeat is comforting in its familiarity – we’ve all been there. Even if we don’t know specifically what these women are gossiping about, we know. And it contrasts nicely with the open camaraderie from “Escaped Alone,” where even the newcomer is allowed into the loop.
This is a short run but worth making time to catch if possible. Take it at its face value and lose yourself in a small garden with some friends.
“Escaped Alone” and “Come and Go” are running through March 17 at the Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. Tickets start at $52 and may be obtained at the box office, online at www.gammtheatre.org or by calling 401.723.4266