‘Escape from Happiness’ raises challenging ideas with humor
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 00:10
Escape from Happiness, written by George F. Walker and directed by Doug Lockwood, was performed from Thursday, Oct. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 20 in the Laurie Theater of the Spingold Theater Center. The play portrays the build-up of a family’s tension, anger and hurt after the father’s unstable return to the home from a decade-long hiatus. In the play, the family lives in poverty because a couple of decades ago the father, Tom (Jonathan Young MFA ’14), a former alcoholic, tried to burn their house down and then ran away with their modest life savings. He left behind his wife Nora (Laura Jo Trexler MFA ’13), and his three children, Mary Ann (Sarah Bedard MFA ’13), Gail (Nicole Dalton MFA ’14) and Elizabeth (Alex Johnson MFA ’14) to fend for themselves.
Johnson, who played the eldest sister, Elizabeth, did a fantastic job of portraying a bisexual lawyer who is trying to stay sane and hold the family together in the midst of insane circumstances. Johnson made this multi-layered and troubled character come to life. Trexler also did an excellent job of portraying the mother’s complete denial about her family’s dire situation and the compromised mental statuses of herself and her children.
This family encounters an insurmountable number of problems. For example, the show opens with Gail’s husband, Junior (Sam Gillam MFA ’14), lying on the floor: injured and seemingly almost dead because, as we learn later, he has been shot by the crooks he was trying to keep at bay. While the situations are dire, the characters respond and deal with depressing situations like these with an unusual amount of levity. When Nora sees her son-in-law lying on the floor and bleeding heavily out of his side, she proclaims that he is not hurt badly because there is not a “certain smell in the air.” She proceeds to force him to get up and start dancing in order to take his mind off his pain until the ambulance arrives. Like the rest of the family, Nora has become mentally unstable due to her anger at her husband and the disillusionment that comes with the traumatic events she has experienced.
Although best exemplified by Nora, all the characters react to their problems in a comical and irrational manner. Junior confirms the characters’ inability to react to situations in a productive and serious manner when he tries to convince Gail that they are in rough waters by telling her, “Gail, we’ve got a real problem, really.” Gail proceeds to roll on the floor laughing as if the whole situation is a big joke. Throughout the play, the audience finds itself thinking exactly what one of the marginal characters puts into words, “What is wrong with you people? You’re all crazy.”
To be fair, the situations in which this family finds itself are insane in the most literal sense of the word. The play begins with a highly unusual premise but as the story progresses, things become stranger. By the final scene, the play has exposed the audience to violence, screaming and crying as well as themes of betrayal, drugs, gangs and pornography.
The set was a two-story house with a cluttered and messy kitchen, a metal exterior door and an upstairs with two bedrooms. The set was fittingly homey and unassuming, reflective of a working class family abode. The floor was covered with woodchips, the presence of which was largely unaccounted for. The characters’ costumes nicely fit their roles in the family. Elizabeth, for instance, wore a corporate-looking suit for roughly the whole show, until the end when she took off her jacket, representing her breakdown. The mother’s attire was appropriately slouchy and comfortable-looking in accordance with her laid back and casual take on life.
The production was well received by the audience, who laughed at every satirical aspect of the performance and sat upright in their seats, ready for more. Overall, the production was a success and left the viewer with a greater understanding of what it means to forgive in the face of resentment and anger.