nytheatre.com review by Leslie Bramm
June 8, 2012
We are a culture of TV and complacency. Our attention spans have dwindled to sound-bitten moments, which are often an endless loop of tired clichés. Susan Mosakowski’s play Escape attempts to touch upon theses themes, in an absurdist style reminiscent of The Bald Soprano.
The stage is split into three different playing areas, in the same apartment complex, in what essentially could be the same house. The play opens in the kitchen. Harry Houdini III, great-grandson of the famous escape artist, is bound in a strait-jacket. He wriggles and flops about trying to free himself. (Credit here to Carlo Albàn, as Houdini, for his skills at the pratfall.) He struggles to live up to his famous name, but seems to fail at even the most basic escapes. While he’s waiting for Ringling Brothers to call, his wife Bess (Samantha Soule) works as a dominatrix in order to make ends meet.
In the bedroom are the highly paranoid, gun-totting Gus (Ted Schneider) and his overly bored wife Lily (Susan Louise O’Connor). She keeps making excuses to get away from him, which just enhances his paranoia. They are the symbols of an America that’s well armed, and locked and loaded.
In the living room is a kidnapper known to us only as “Daddy” (John Sharian), and his victim Marilyn (Lauren Fortgang). Marilyn may very well be an incarnation of Ms. Monroe. Daddy is obsessed with macho, American identity, and wants to transform himself into a TV hero, while his hostage is a symbol of the false glamour whose glitters blinds the view of most American eyes.
Each vignette builds in absurdity and at the climax they begin to actually overlap. This is the most interesting point of the play. We get to see the characters break away from their scene partners and really interact. True to its title, in one way or another, each character escapes at the end.
The ensemble cast all do fine work. They are energetic and pleasant to watch.
While a heartfelt attempt at this style of theatre, the play falls short in many areas. It lacks a fundamental intellectual point of view about its subject matter. Great absurdist theatre can often become quite silly, but the silly seems smart, because the intellectual premise of the plays are so high context. Escape is quite funny at times, the way sit-coms can be, but never rises to a level of wit that an absurd political comedy needs in order to be effective. When your characters are all symbols of a culture, you need to do something with them. Mosakowski’s social and political statements are only half-baked, often relying on the very pop culture she’s trying to lampoon, to make her point.
Gaye Taylor Upchurch helms the play and does a great job keeping it moving. Pace is everything in comedy, and Upchurch keeps the momentum going. Set design by Lauren Helpern was quite an undertaking. She created three separate rooms, furnished each one, and made them functional and inhabitable. Kudos.
Creation Production Company brings us this production. In their 30-plus years of producing plays they have brought us close to 50 original works. That’s quite impressive. Escape is a sometimes funny evening of theatre ripe for social commentary. It just falls short of the mark.