First Look: ‘Far Away’ at Torn Space Theater

28238195_10160053752350578_8546156867894849824_o

The cast of “Far Away” at Torn Space Theatre. Photo by Mark Duggan.

When playwright Caryl Churchill penned “Far Away” in 2000, the world was a different place. Modern society still had – as it always will have  – a plethora of struggle. But as Torn Space Theater stages this drama in 2018, its relevance and setting in the current climate is an eerie, timely reflection.

Director Dan Shanahan says, “The show deals with a society that has institutions and manners that resemble a democracy, however clearly an autocracy has taken hold. The author’s logic is that this society has moved to an ‘uncracked capitalist society’ where everything has been privatized and this has eroded all environmental standards and democratic institutions.”

Hmm. Familiar?

Shanahan taps into some fresh and raw energy for this production by casting three teen actors in principal roles. He says, “I felt the language of the play benefited by a certain directness that a teenager can bring.” Bonnie Jean Taylor, displays her incredible talent here as part of a tight, taut ensemble cast of nine actors.

Typical of Churchill’s work, “Far Away” is edgy, and the staging will reflect this. Shanahan says, “The show is written in three short acts, purposely fractured, with each act in a unique design.” Torn Space’s production team created a rich audio/visual backdrop for the poetry of Churchill’s script. The company’s scenographer Kristina Siegel fills the quiet moments with a visual score that articulates the fractured nature of Churchill’s world. Sound design by Justin Rowland, costume design by Jessica Wegrzyn, lighting design by Patty Rihn, and choreography by Alexia Buono will complement a world both far removed, and unsettlingly familiar in this bold, uncompromising production of “Far Away.”

“Far Away” is onstage at the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, located at 612 Fillmore Ave. Buffalo,  now through March 11, 2018. For tickets and more information, please click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.

Theatre Review: ‘Far Away’ at Torn Space Theater

The cast of “Far Away” at Torn Space Theatre. Photo by Mark Duggan.

The opening scene of the Torn Space production of Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” is the most engrossing. In it, a young girl named Joan (Allison Barsi) approaches her aunt Harper (Bonnie Jean Taylor) to tell her that she cannot sleep. TST mainstay Taylor is particularly strong, her performance, characterized by restraint as well as range, often grounding what will be a plot-lite and highly suggestive production. The exceptionally talented Barsi — a ninth-grader — matches her, though, perfectly balancing in her delivery a fear of what she saw, an assertion of its truth, and a readiness to believe the best of it.

Fine performances, choreography, set design, sound, and lighting conspire to render powerfully something that is only suggested in Churchill’s script. 

As the girl and the woman, both dressed with a sort of fascicized Puritan sensibility, move about a small room of wood and lit white sheets, not square but opening outward toward the audience, and set on a rounded bottom: Each step an actor takes sends the whole contraption – the home – tilting and thunking from side to side. Intimacy, here, is impossible. Touch is unnatural. There is no comfort in any corner.

From their strained conversation, the audience pieces together that the world is in conflict and even those with intact families and homes live in a state of constant fear and suspicion. “Here we are,” Harper reassures her niece, “in our little bit of space, and I’m on the side of the people who are putting things right.”

We tell ourselves stories in order to live – so Joan Didion says. In the world of “Far Away”, Harper’s simple, flimsy story may be the only one left worth telling. We can almost hear it collapse along with scenographer Kristina Siegel’s house at the close of the act.

The second act opens on an adult Joan (Corrine McLoughlin), now a milliner in a stark, futuristic factory, where she, her coworker Todd (Kalub Thompson), and other artists make high-fashion hats for prisoners. Allusions to corruption, mass incarceration, futility, and execution are layered over the undercurrent of general and all-encompassing conflict, as the dialogue loosely links the themes of aesthetics, imprisonment, observation, judgment, and production and consumption.

“The script for ‘Far Away’ resembles a relief for what could be a vast epic of 20th and 21st century turmoil,” writes director Dan Shanahan. The particulars of culture, geography, and exposition have been erased, leaving only a system at the root of the turmoil.

Following the collapse of the home — a defined, if precarious, “little bit of space” — all of the characters are radically exposed, and slip further into a manic anxiety of affiliation. In Churchill’s world, every constituency of the natural world is at war with every other: Japanese and French, as well as deers, mosquitos, cats, and children under five. Alliances are always shifting: “The dentists have been linked with international dentistry, and that’s where their true loyalties lie,” Joan shouts, in one example of the play’s characteristically quick-guttering humor.

Written and first produced in 2000, Churchill’s play was a frank warning to an increasingly divided world. Nearly 20 years later, the warning’s last echo has died and we see in the work only a stark reification, embodiment, and animation of our hyper-partisanship. When Todd remarks that life here and now is “tiring … because everything’s been recruited,” he is voicing, in Churchill’s simple and effective language, nearly every audience member’s secret end-of-the-workweek thoughts.

Audience members looking for a a satisfying narrative arc, high drama, clever banter, or Aristotelian catharsis would do better to look elsewhere. But for the theatregoer hoping to be unsettled and impregnated with an idea that may not give its first full kick until long after you’ve stepped back out onto Fillmore, “Far Away” is worth seeing. Fine performances, choreography, set design, sound, and lighting conspire to render powerfully something that is only suggested in Churchill’s script. As the descriptions of parties, sides, and alliances multiply and grow increasingly absurd, an absence at the heart of the performance widens. While there are countless Others, there is very little — save accidents of proximity, incarceration, and death — on which to found an “us.”

Running Time: 65 Minutes with a 10 minute intermission.

“Far Away” runs until March 11, 2018 and is presented at Torn Space Theater. For more information, click here.