Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Far Away (PTP/NYC)

In the past couple of decades, Caryl Churchill has perfected the oblique and concentrated one-act play, somehow providing the intellectual challenge and emotional punch of the best of full-length plays in less than an hour. Examples include Escaped Alone (55 minutes), a cutting examination of  people maintaining "normality" as the world unravels; A Number (60 minutes), which considers cloning from a clone's point of view; and Drunk Enough to Say I Love You (45 minutes), an evisceration of the United States' treatment of other countries. 

Caitlin Duffy and Ro Boddie

And then there is Far Away, which brilliantly depicts an existence that is just to the right of our current world. (The original New York production, in 2002, came across as a "what if" exercise, with a certain amount of insanity/metaphor/magic realism. In 2020, after many "what ifs" have actually occurred, the world of Far Away feels considerably less far away.)

Nesba Crenshaw and Lilah May Pfeiffer 

It's difficult to describe Far Away without spoilers. In fact, almost any description would tell too much. Suffice to say that it depicts a world where good things happen, horrible things happen, and as regular people go from day to day in their uncontroversial lives they may be more complicit than they would ever guess. 

The excellent PTP/NYC posted an amazingly successful streaming version of Far Away last week. Cheryl Faraone directed with her usual subtle intelligence, and she made simple but effective decisions to utilize the strengths of streaming (everyone in the audience has an excellent seat) and bypass the weaknesses (the use of identical backdrops and choreographed looks between actors make it easy to forget that they were not in the same room). Unfortunately, the current situation made impossible a truly amazing coup de theatre in the play, and I'm not sure that Faraone's replacement was sufficient to let new audiences know exactly what was going on. (In the original NY production at the NYTW, the scene was equal parts thrilling and chilling.)

In a streaming production, the skills of the performers are particularly important, and the cast is terrific: Lilah May Pfeiffer nicely shows that the questioning nature of young people can become dangerous; Nesba Crenshaw believably sinks into paranoia--or does she?--without ever seeming crazy; Ro Boddie charms as he negotiates finding a coworker attractive; and Caitlin Duffy is superbly both guarded and transparent as she struggles to understand what is happening inside and outside of her world and how she should respond.

It may seem strange to review a production that is no longer available and that can't be discussed in any real detail, but here's the thing: the wonderful people at PTP/NYC are already planning their next season, which will likely include other strong and significant shows, beautifully produced. That's what they've been doing for decades. 

Wendy Caster

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