Richard, Peter, Valerie, and I saw *Escaped Alone* at BAM on 2/17. It's a new play by English playwright Caryl Churchill. She's best known for the plays she wrote in the 70s and 80s: *Cloud Nine,* *Top Girls,* *Fen,* *Serious Money.* *Escaped Alone* is her new play, written in 2016.
It's hard to say what it's about, so instead I'll try and tell you what happens. A middle-aged English woman (played by the great Linda Bassett) walks by a fence with the door open. She recognizes the women sitting in their back garden, so she goes in, sits down, and talks with them. The play consists of these four women talking, from matters ordinary (what they like to cook, what happened with that ironmonger) to the extraordinary (one of the women killed her husband and spent six years in prison). These scenes are interspersed with abstract monologues by the central character about life after the apocalypse (more about that in a bit). The BAM website describes the play as "doomsday in a teapot, a calmly revolutionary vision of looming collapse."
At some point each of the women has a sort of out-of-time monologue. The other characters freeze (which isn't very striking, since they're all sitting on lawn chairs) and the lighting becomes more theatrical, highlighting the woman who's speaking and dimming down on the others. The best monologue was about an irrational fear of cats. This woman is afraid to open the door to her house because if she does, the cats will come in, and there will be cats all over the house - - in the bread box, under the bed, in the medicine cabinet, etc. She was especially frightened by the cat under the bed, she mentioned it a few times.
The post-apocalyptic monologues were the most fascinating and perplexing part of the play. The central character stepped out of the back yard and was framed by two flickering orange rectangles, seeming to float in the void.
One line has been seared in my brain: "Gas masks are available on the NHS with a three-month waiting time, or on the black market, in a range of colors." The tone was somewhat comic but more often disturbing, like the bit about morbidly obese people selling off slices of themselves to the hungry. Then the lights would go out and she would be sitting in her chair in the back garden with the other three women.
The play, for me, required a two-pronged process of understanding. The first task was understanding the words. I don't watch as much public television as my mother, so the working class English accents were a bit of work. The second task was trying to understand what it all MEANS. What was real? Was the back garden conversation a happy memory, or a hallucination by the central character? Eventually I decided that I didn't need to necessarily understand it to enjoy it, or to appreciate the power of the performances and the craft of the writing.