things about stuff
Reviewed by Adelina Anthony
George F. Walker's play Escape From Happiness is a violently funny comedy that takes a personal look at an extremely dysfunctional family. As directed by the talented Martha Demson and performed by her superb cast, the production easily matches the genius of the playwright. Before we know it, three enjoyable hours of theatre have whizzed by like a police chase.
That's because much of the show is paced like the heartbeat of a cokehead. The play begins with an inciting moment that involves the youngest daughter, Gail (Andrea Fears), freaking out over her severely beaten up husband, Junior (Patrick Tuttle), who lies bloody and near death on the kitchen floor. In motherly fashion, Nora (Lorinne Vozoff) spews advice and tries to calm her daughter down. But the moment Nora opens her mouth, we realize her monologue is the gateway into the maelstrom of the play.
This "state of irregularity," as Nora calls it, is enhanced by the slightly raked stage design of Clayton Tripp. I'm not always a huge fan of such hardcore realistic sets because they don't leave much for the audience to imagine, but this set also adds a pop-up storybook feel to its realism which helps to frame the story. And with all of the hilarious twists and turns in the play, it's nice to have it grounded in some kind of reality.
Aside from the writing, the acting choices across the board are heartbreakingly zany. Hep Jamieson's character, Mary Ann, the middle daughter whose therapy sessions have led her to a crossroads-again-is a character we love to laugh at. Jamieson is a riot when she "outs" one of the family members. But watch out for the heart tug when she confronts her once abusive father. The character is remarkably layered and deftly underplayed.
It is no easy task to single out any actor from this incredibly accomplished cast. It's like picking a criminal out of a line-up; I can't think of one who doesn't earn his or her share of laughs. Those who also get to break a piece of our sympathetic hearts are Vozoff as Nora, Rod Sell as wayward father Tom, and Arizona Brooks as eldest daughter Elizabeth. One of the most effective images Demson creates onstage is during Elizabeth's volcanic breakdown. Mary Ann and Gail each latch on to one of Elizabeth's legs while she drags them downstage--imagine a tree trying to walk away. Even Elizabeth, the most intelligent of the group, needs her emotionally unbalanced family. Ultimately, Walker's play isn't just about how families blow apart but about the way they can come together, even if only in misery. It almost leaves us with a stronger sense of hope for society- that other unruly family at large.
"Escape From Happiness, " presented by and at the Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave.
Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. Nov. 5 - Dec. 11
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