Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:36 am
by Mitch Montgomery, Backstage
The expression that good fences make for good neighbors is trotted out in Susan Mosakowski’s droll “Escape,” but the three daffy sets of neighbors that the play follows have found more interesting ways to keep the rest of the block out of their business. Mosakowski’s comedy occasionally ventures into dark territory but ably makes her point about the hilarious extremes that people will endure before attempting a getaway from their absurd and isolated lives.
Designer Lauren Helpern’s economical set divvies up the space into three convincing homes in a working-class neighborhood, where events play out in simultaneous action. At rise, Carlo Albán, who plays Harry Houdini III, struggles to free himself from a straightjacket while his wife, Bess, casually sips her morning coffee and reads the paper. Harry claims to be the grandson of the great escape artist but shows little aptitude in the family trade. Albán invests Harry with untarnished determination as he fails to release himself from a coffin, a rope, and a metal milk crate. He dreams of Ringling Bros. while Bess, an unfussy and appealing Samantha Soule, works at an S&M club to pay the bills.
Things are no better for Gus and Lilly. He’s an out-of-work elevator repairman with a bulletproof vest and a cache of weapons, played with a hammy Archie Bunker cadence by Ted Schneider. Susan Louise O’Connor gives his wife, Lily, an amused smile, but she’s shell-shocked, wearied, and desperate to be rid of her paranoid husband. In the case of aspiring actor Marilyn, the need for extrication is hardly metaphorical. Though held at gunpoint by a turbaned terrorist called Daddy, Lauren Fortgang’s Marilyn maintains a marvelous fluttery affect. John Sharian’s mixed-up Daddy is of fluctuating nationality and wishy-washy political affiliation and might have already made his escape—from a mental institution.
Frustrated, Harry leaves his coffin and straightjacket in the alley for garbage pickup, but Daddy and Lily quickly scoop them up. From there the neighbors’ stories become increasingly entangled, making it even more difficult to liberate themselves from their batty, cyclical lives. Occasionally, director Gay Taylor Upchurch’s concise staging weaves the characters in and out of each other’s playing areas, either to tease the commotion brewing next door or to handily reinforce some exaggerated action, like trying to untie a rope, by having two characters in separate scenes perform it in sync. It’s all in service of the theme of Mosakowski’s delightful comedy: The men need to escape from their delusions, and the women need to escape from their delusional men.