Presented by Genesis West. At Center Stage Theater,
Saturday, March 18. Shows through April 1.
It’s hard to know what to make of controversial writer Caryl
Churchill’s Far Away, the second production in Genesis West’s
season at Center Stage. On one hand, the play is a biting satire of
war (aimed, one can only suspect, at the conflict in Iraq); on the
other, it’s a haunting look at the perils of raising children in a
paranoid, trigger-happy society.
The premise is simple. Sometime in the future, the world is
engaged in total war. And not just people — flora, fauna, even the
weather have been personified and asked to take sides. (“I didn’t
know if it was on our side or theirs,” one character said of a
river as she crossed it. “Whether it would drown me or help me.”)
It is in this shaky environment that Joan (played in her younger
years by Annie Z. Spirka, with Tiffany Rose Brown as the elder)
comes of age. After accidentally witnessing her guerilla-fighter
uncle’s brutality toward an enemy group, the unsuspecting Joan is
forced to accept — even embrace — conflict.
As the little girl, 15-year-old Spirka embodies a child’s fright
and, more importantly, the realization that her world has been
suddenly and irrevocably turned upside-down by the effects of war.
Allison Coutts-Jordan and Chris Turner ably portray Joan’s aunt and
camouflage-clad boyfriend. But the triumph here is Brown’s, the
UCSB drama student whose presence injects life into this dreary
tale. She’s asked to be vivacious in one scene, as Joan happily
aids the war effort. Yet by the end of the play, as apocalypse
quickly approaches, her character is lifeless, broken. Brown
effectively conveys this transformation.
Genesis West’s production never lags under the direction of
Maurice Lord. It’s quick, too, clocking in at a mere 50 minutes.
Working within a small space, the designers have created a nifty
rotating set which takes the Center Stage from woodsy cottage to
big-city factory and back. Still, the show’s main attractions are
groovy costume hats, some several feet tall and wide. Midway
through the action, Far Away comes to a standstill as a parade of
extras creep down stage, each wearing a hat. They’re the dead
victims of the apocalypse, and the headpieces are their burial
Churchill’s work, performed off-Broadway in 2002, requires
serious thought. Take the title, for example. Do the characters
want to be “far away” from what they’re experiencing? Does the plot
take place on earth, or are these atrocities happening “far away”
from us today? (Think Baghdad.) It’s unclear, but one wonders.