Soulpepper’s Escaped Alone is quietly devastating theatre

ESCAPED ALONE by Caryl Churchill (Soulpepper/Necessary Angel). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Runs to.

ESCAPED ALONE by Caryl Churchill (Soulpepper/Necessary Angel). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Runs to November 25. $36-$97. 416-866-8666, See listing. Rating: NNNN

The image of older British women chatting over a pot of tea is quaintly familiar. But what Caryl Churchill does with that trope in her brief but powerful play Escaped Alone is quietly devastating.

The play begins almost like a fable. One woman, Mrs. Jarrett (Clare Coulter), has found an opening in a fence, and is asked by neighbours Vi (Brenda Robins), Lena (Kyra Harper) and Sally (Maria Vacratsis) to join them in a backyard. Soon all of them, with the help of that tea, go down a rabbit hole of amiable conversation about TV shows, former jobs, grandkids and the ubiquitous use of cellphones.

Gradually, though, some sensitive subjects are broached: why exactly Vi was away for six years whats keeping Lena housebound and why Sally fears a particular type of animal.

Churchills language here is spare but evocative, each phrase suggesting lots about the womens lives and their relationships.

As for the slightly older Mrs. Jarrett, she periodically stands up and, with Jennifer Lennons lighting focused on her face, voices a continuing narrative about some apocalyptic event that has either happened (perhaps theyre in limbo now?) or is about to happen.

Director Jennifer Tarver, whos successfully helmed several plays by Churchills theatrical forebear Samuel Beckett, brings a satisfying shape to the production, letting the small and big observations about life and humanity register with full force.

It helps that shes working with four of the best actors in the city, particularly Robins, who has a prickly note of anxiety in her voice and posture, and Coulter, whose mesmerizing delivery of the poetic and prophetic pronouncements make her seem like a latter-day Cassandra.

I dont want to spoil Coulters final lines, which are repeated over two dozen times. But they speak to something particular in the world right now yet also universal.

The way those words linger as were watching Lennons lighting dim on Teresa Przybylskis deceptively simple set is unforgettable.

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