651 Fulton St.
February 15-26, $30-$90
Award-winning British playwright Caryl Churchill artfully reproduces the random textures and intricate rise and fall, and the complicated rhythms of our banal daily conversations in the glorious Escaped Alone, which continues at BAM through February 26. But under those chats, lurking in the interstices and bubbling just underneath the surface, are horrors that are exposed in dystopian apocalyptic interludes. Churchill masterfully captures the zeitgeist of life in the twenty-first century through the gossiping of a quartet of women just passing the time. Mrs. Jarrett (Linda Bassett) is walking along the street when she hears three acquaintances chattering away behind a fence. She steps through a gate to join Sally (Deborah Findlay), Lena (Kika Markham), and Vi (June Watson) in Vi’s grassy and sunny suburban backyard where, over the course of an hour, the women discuss children, television programs, cooking, jokes, and how things change as they get older. “It all goes by,” Sally says wistfully early on. Every so often Mrs. J steps out of the scene as red neon lights flash around the proscenium (evoking the special lighting effects employed in Churchill’s recent Love and Information) and proceeds to deliver deadly funny details of various devastating global catastrophes, including floods, mass hunger, and killer viruses, as if she is a lone witness. She then returns to her chair like nothing happened. Meanwhile, Sally, Lena, and Vi each give a personal monologue of their own, the lights dimming on the other three and zeroing in on the speaker as one by one the women share their inner fears in a matter-of-fact manner.
The play takes its name from a quote from the Book of Jonah that was also used by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick: “I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” Sally, who has a cat problem, Lena, who wants to be invisible, and Vi, who had a rather unfortunate incident with her husband, might still be trying to escape while Mrs. J faces it in her own way, ending her first monologue by saying, “Survivors were now solitary and went insane at different rates.” The characters regularly fly off on tangents, speaking in partial sentences that combine to form a kind of fluid, abstract stream-of-consciousness poetry that is absolutely lovely to listen to. Peter Mumford’s lighting is virtually a character in itself, making the most of Miriam Buether’s bright, charming set, which recalls the famous Robert Frost quote “Good fences make good neighbors.” (The fence also evokes Donald Trump’s wall, except this one offers free entry and exit.) The four women, who were all in the original Royal Court Theatre production, are extraordinary, their words ricocheting off one another like a championship doubles match at Wimbledon. Longtime Churchill collaborator James Macdonald (Cloud Nine, A Number) oversees it all with a deft hand, keeping every little bit utterly captivating. Now seventy-eight, multiple Obie winner Churchill (Top Girls, Serious Money) has written yet another stunning work, cutting into the contemporary mind like a surgeon, exposing the mystifying stories we tell ourselves to get through our days.