ESCAPE FROM HAPPINESS by George F. Walker, directed by Ken Gass. Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). $12-$35. To April 23. See Continuing. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Past productions of escape from Happiness were well-loved. Fans of playwright George F. Walker have every right to expect great things from the 2006 revival, directed by Factory's own Ken Gass and featuring a who's-who cast.
So what to do when the execution doesn't work? Blame the playwright? The cast? Chalk it up to your own snot-nosed notion about how Walker "should" be done? Or rely on your gut, which tells you all of these factors are at play, and then laugh along to a supposed classic Canadian comedy?
Witness 24 hours in the life of a Toronto family, where Mom ( Clare Coulter ) is framed for trafficking, daughters Elizabeth ( Irene Poole ), Mary Anne ( Catherine Fitch ) and Gail ( Rebecca Auerbach ) sport serious psycho-damage, and Dad ( Layne Coleman ) is sick, and has a secret. They put the "fun" in dysfunction when they take the matter of Mom's criminal charges into their own hands.
While there's nothing new about being neurotic, or about having a family you want to strangle, Walker's unique pace sets the story's internal ticker to 10 and pushes to 11 with wild humour and violent clashes between the sisters and outsiders. Some active bits are too loud and frantic to offer real character development. And for some reason, Gass lets the cast mumble through lulls in the action, which makes the 2.5-hour running time feel longer.
As in most plays one feels obliged to enjoy, Escape has some good lines and redeeming moments. A few of Poole's zingers land. But I felt happy to escape and wait for the next move by these players, playwright and director.