WARWICK — It's all about the women at the Gamm Theatre this month where audiences can see two short, but powerful plays — each featuring first rate, all-female casts — and experience extraordinary acting and compelling theatre.
Gamm Artistic Director Tony Estrella, who directs both plays with precision, has, in his usual ingenious fashion, given us a chance to wonder, ponder and appreciate by pairing Caryl Churchill's "Escaped Alone," (it runs roughly an hour) with Samuel Beckett's "Come and Go," a very short (less than 10 minutes long) very minimalist play. The plays run through March 17.
In "Escaped Alone," which is making its New England debut, we meet four more-than-middle-aged women — longtime friends Lena (Carol Drewes,) Vi (Marya Lowry) and Sally (Karen MacDonald) and a neighbor, Mrs. Jarrett (Debra Wise) — as they sit in Sally's ivy-walled, backyard garden sharing reminiscences and jokes, giving family updates, making confessions, and being silly.
Their impromptu rendition of "Da Doo Ron Ron," is hilarious and heartwarming and their knock-knock and chicken-crossing-the road jokes, foolishly funny. But their lighthearted moments are peppered with anxious ones, fearful ones and in a series of monologues we learn of their deeper worries.
There's the story of murder and ensuing prison sentence for Vi (Lowry is outstanding;) the debate about the telling of "moron" jokes ("They keep changing what you can say" says one of the friends, no more Irish jokes can be told, for instance) Lena's crippling depression (Drewes is excellent) and then there's Sally's fear of cats.
MacDonald, a Boston-area actor making her Gamm debut, is simply magnificent as Sally. In her stunning feline-o-phobic monologue, she slowly, steadily unravels in crescendo, then calmly, brilliantly recomposes. It is an exquisite piece of acting.
And then there's Mrs. Jarrett (Wise is exceptional) who interrupts the friend's garden conversations at regular intervals to deliver her dire messages. Messages which seem, at first, to be gibberish, but turn out to be poetic descriptions of disasters and catastrophes. Disasters and catastrophes featuring waters, winds, rocks and fire which sound frighteningly familiar. Consider the tornado that ripped though Alabama earlier this week, the omnipresence and acceptance of the chemical Roundup, the California wildfires, and the deep freeze that continues its grip across portions of the country.
For instance, Mrs Jarrett warns: "Waves engulfed ferris wheels and drowned bodies were piled up to block doors," she says, "Then the walls of water came from the sea. Villages vanished and cities relocated to their rooftops. Sometimes children fell down the sewage chutes but others caught seagulls with kites. Some died of thirst, some of drinking the water."
And: "The hunger began when eighty percent of food was diverted to TV programs. Commuters watched breakfast on iPlayer on their way to work. Smartphones were distributed by charities when rice ran out, so the dying could watch cooking.”
She also speaks of Trump, Brexit, land developers, travel documents, selfies and "the illness that started when children drank sugar made from monkeys."
Lots to ponder — from politics to friendships, from marriage to global warming and then some — in this thought-provoking play by a woman considered by many to be the greatest living playwrights of the English language.
In the cryptic "Come and Go," three friends (Drewes plays Flo, Lowry plays Vi and MacDonald plays Ru) sit on a park bench, and, in true Beckett tradition say very little while speaking volumes. As they sit semi-veiled behind a gauzy curtain, we're let in on their shared past and their fears.
As predicted, "Come and Go" left us smiling — and haunted.
David Roy's lighting, Charles Cofone's sound and Jessica Hill's set design contribute to this pair of powerhouse productions.