October 25, 2014
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Disturbing, thought provoking Churchill plays at Gamm
Don Fowler

Playwright Caryl Chur-chill is an acquired taste. She challenges you intellectually, while also confusing you with her scene changes that require you to pay attention and try to keep up with her runaway mind.

Gamm has accepted her challenge by combining two of her most challenging one-act plays into one night of theatre. In both plays the acting is superior but the plays are difficult. The first, “A Number,” is tightly written, futuristic and darkly carried out.

Jim O’Brien plays a father who has cloned his son. Tony Estrella plays three of the “sons” in a brilliant performance, using only a slight change of clothing, hairstyle and glasses to create three look-alike but different incarnations. (One audience member was convinced she was watching different actors).

The dialogue is crisp, the emotions run high, and we are left with an image of the future that is very disturbing.

After intermission, we are presented with Churchill’s equally disturbing but more confusing play that needs more concentration and understanding than I was able to muster.

“Far Away” opens with a little girl (Lauren Durkin) visiting her aunt (Casey Seymour Kim) in a remote cabin. She awakens and describes a series of horrific events occurring outside her window. Her aunt explains them away, further confusing the child (and me).

Scene 2 portrays a man (Alexander Platt) and a woman (the grown up Joan, played by Marianna Basham) making bizarre hats for prisoners in a factory. On Parade Day they are worn by prisoners who process across the stage.

The final scene, 10 years later, has the man and woman together at the aunt’s home, where something terrible is happening outside. If it is a war, they don’t know whose side they are on.

There is lengthy dialogue, sounding more like gibberish, with the characters spouting about animals and nationalities, and who they are aligned with. I’m sure that Churchill was trying to warn us about understanding our surroundings, but it was difficult for me to comprehend.

Casey Seymour Kim and Alexander Platt are to be praised for first, memorizing the intricate dialogue, and second, displaying their talents in presenting it.

This is a difficult play that perhaps should be read and even studied before seeing it. Being exposed to it for the first time, I must admit that I just didn’t get it.

According to Estrella, this is the first time that he knows of the two plays being done together. Both will hold your interest. Both are performed by polished actors who give it their all. The first is more accessible than the second. Both will challenge your intellect.

“A Number” and “Far Away” will be at Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket through Oct. 13. Call 723-4266 for reservations.


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