The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts March 3, 2006

Far Away or Close
Far Away a Superb, Surreal Experience
All’s fair in love and war: Joan (Lisa Maley) and Todd (Barry Bryan) find each other in a time of turmoil.

Caryl Churchill’s Far Away, staged last weekend in the Little Theater, brought to light both the insidious and absurd nature of war, oppression and fear in general. Directed by senior Josh Luxenberg, the play was set in a world both surreal and frighteningly familiar.

Lasting approximately 50 minutes and divided into three separate acts, the story began in the home of Harper (sophomore Sarah Degni), a seemingly average woman whose young niece, Joan (sophomore Lisa Maley), had come to stay with her for some time.

In the middle of the night, Joan comes to her aunt having witnessed awful, frightening things that she barely has the vocabulary to describe. Harper assures her that there is a reasonable explanation, but is she telling the truth?

The second act followed Joan into the beginnings of her career as a haberdasher. Working alongside the charming, though cynical, Todd (junior Barry Bryan), she fashioned extravagant hats for use in “The Parade.” Soon enough, the two were falling in love. The audience, however, was treated to the terrible discovery of what the “The Parade” actually is (clue: think Macy’s Day meets 1984).

The third act — my personal favorite — blew the lid off any pretensions of realism, painting a nightmarish omni-war in which “the Bolivians are working with gravity” and “there are thousands dead of light in Madrid.” Joan and Todd are now married and meeting covertly at Harper’s house while he is on leave from the army.

Nothing is resolved, per se, but the play does end with a message of hope — or at least one of resilience.

Maley deserves credit for having had the most difficult and demanding task of the three actors. She had to portray Joan at three exceedingly different stages in her life, and yet, still maintain a level of continuity in her characterization. Joan was the largest part by far, but Maley rose to the challenge, delivering a nuanced performance that held the audience’s attention throughout.

Brian and Degni were also quite good in their roles. The romantic chemistry between Brian and Maley in the second act kept the pace up despite the choppiness of action being divided between numerous short scenes. And Degni proved adept —along with Maley — at holding the suspense and tension in the first scene taut, slowly maneuvering the audience toward the act’s ambiguous, unsettling conclusion.

However, the one scene that Brian and Degni had together, which comprised the bulk of Act III, was the only one that seemed off. Both actors appeared somehow emotionally disengaged. Given the grievous nature of their conversation, they seemed relatively blasé. The chemistry and timing that was present in their scenes with Maley was missing.

Also, “The Parade” looked to be a little understaffed, making the sequence a bit tedious and overlong. The same goes for the scene changes, which could only be described as deadly. Perhaps they would have benefited from the wistful headwear that rescued “The Parade,” turning it into a sinister, if somewhat slow delight.

Ultimately, though, the production was a great success. Luxenberg’s direction was inspired, yet tastefully controlled. The set by Farah Joyner and the lighting by sophomore Mike McGee were appropriately expressionistic while remaining grounded in a necessary degree of realism — the latter aided by the general costuming choices and the former by senior Jamila Clarke and sophomore Trina Parrish’s marvelous array of bizarre, spectacular hats.

As for the play itself, Far Away may not have anything especially new to say in the realm of political theatre, but the style with which it restated proven themes was one to be truly admired.


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