Review: Escape From Happiness (WhobeatupJunior Equity Co-op)

Escape from Happiness-Women

Explore your neurotic side with Escape From Happiness, at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre

The holidays are upon us. What better way to celebrate that looming cheer than with a dose of family dysfunction courtesy of George F. Walker?

Escape From Happiness begins with Junior lying on the floor of his mother-in-law’s home, badly beaten, the victim of a home invasion.

The ensuing two-and-a-half hour performance falls just short of hilarity: it is a comedic drama, after all. The disjointed family enlists the help of Elizabeth, the eldest of the three daughters and a lawyer, to figure out what happened and to save the family from moral and legal collapse.

The story is too complicated to summarize in a paragraph or less. Suffice it to say two police officers and a father/son con artist duo advance the plot through almost unnavigable twists that get mired in far-reaching intrigue. This culminates in a loosely choreographed gun showdown in the family’s living room.

The dénouement arrives in a tidy package like a mall-wrapped Christmas gift. This did not sit well with me considering the chaos of the preceding two acts. I was hoping for more ambiguity and less network sitcom finality.

I chose Escape From Happiness on the strength of the playwright’s reputation. Andre agreed to come with me armed only with the theatre’s address.

We both agreed that the plot was confusing and that the blocking, stage business, the fighting and gun play could use more finesse.

We loved the three sisters and most especially Rosemary Doyle, who played middle sister Mary Ann. Described by her sister as “a neurotic idiot child”, Mary Ann is dowdy, flaky and yes, incredibly neurotic. Doyle does good work portraying a woman on a self-delusional journey to self-improvement with the perfect touch of madness.

During an incongruous voice over sequence, we see a range of emotion dance across Doyle’s face as she contemplates the minutia of her thoughts in a stream of consciousness monologue.

Margaret Lamarre, who plays the matriarch Nora, is the star of the show’s first act. Her program notes state, “I did Walker’s BETTER LIVING over 15 years ago at the Alumnae Theatre … my then little children wrote in the suggestion book that their mother wasn’t acting she really was like that.”

As a guest in the Lamarre household over the years—one of my oldest friends is Lamarre’s daughter, Athena—I can attest to this. Having not done any prior research on the cast, I was surprised and delighted to watch Margaret Lamarre perform for the first time.

Her timing is impeccable; her delivery of the playwright’s lengthy and absurd observations and surmising is hilarious. Lamarre attracts us with her character’s bundle of neuroses and we fall in love with her grim disposition.

Escape From Happiness is a play from George F. Walker’s East End Plays series and Red Sandcastle Theatre, a storefront in Leslieville, is an excellent choice of venue for this production.

Located across the street from Jim’s Restaurant and K&S Family Restaurant, the few remaining institutions evincing the neighbourhood’s gritty past, the theatre space gives way to an authentic lower income household. The set is designed with the tacky colour combination of brown, orange and green and comes equipped with a hotplate, toaster oven and transistor radio.

Overall, the acting is commendable and we are so transfixed by it that we almost forgot to pay attention to the ambling plot. I recommend this show to anyone who feels they are alone in their dysfunction and neuroses.

Details

  • Escape From Happiness is playing at Red SandcastleTheatre (922 Queen Street East) until December 17, 2012.
  • Remaining Performances: December 13-15, December 17, 7:30 pm
  • Tickets: $15 artists/students/seniors-$20 regular
  • Tickets can be purchased in person or by calling the box office at 416-845-9411. CASH ONLY.

Photo of Rosemary Doyle, Kaitlyn Riordan, Margaret Lamarre and Maria Syrgiannis by Stephen Simeon