Presented by Whistler in the Dark
by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Meg Taintor
Review by Gillian Daniels
One of the most terrifying things about dictatorships, dystopias, and police states are how they turn what is savage and ridiculous into what is mundane and even acceptable. Blood doesn’t flow on stage at any point during Whistler in the Dark’s production of Far Away. No one pulls out a gun or stabs another character to prove a point. With the power of playwright Caryl Churchill’s words and Meg Taintor’s direction, they don’t need to. Fear lay heavily over the show already; we don’t need any clearer sign things are uncertain and wrong.
Becca A. Lewis is Joan, a girl convinced, as early as a precocious child, to accept nonsensical laws and strange, brutal happenings as normal. She convinces the audience of both her naiveté and her keen powers of observation. We never really understand when or how the violent powers-that-be take control of the government, but it’s fairly certain she doesn’t know either. Lewis is no stranger to Whistler in the Dark and is as on fire here as she was in another subversive Churchill play performed by the company, Vinegar Tom. Far Away again has her play a woman in the middle of a social catastrophe, though instead of being accused of witchcraft, Lewis’s Joan struggles under the weight of a dystopia.
Lorna Nogueira, who was engaging and wonderful in Whistler’s Our Country’s Good and The After-Dinner Joke, is Harper, Joan’s guardian. Much like the government, it’s never fully explained when or how she came to be trusted with taking care of Joan. They are both helpless, perplexed by the horrors lurking at the edges of their world. Unfortunately, there’s some question over how many of these horrors are real and how many are imagined by over-the-top propaganda.
This is a portrait wrought with ludicrous, bleak humor, a perspective believable from living under the boot-heal of a totalitarian government. Todd (Bob Mussett) appears to have some idea of what’s beyond the veil drawn over the lives of himself and those around him. Still, even he is prey to a power system no one can really wrap their heads around.
With three actors and a short run-time, Far Away is a tight, paranoid fable. Taintor and set and costume designer, Kelly Leigh David, work to accentuate what is ordinary—brightly colored hats, pajamas, and Persian rugs—rather than what is terrifying. It works in the play’s favor. While it’s a show that may be too serious and shapeless for some, its grim comedy and sense of dread is difficult to shake afterward.
Far Away has the unfortunate distinction of being Whistler in the Dark’s final show. It’s not bad to go out with a post-apocalyptic bang rather than a whimper, but there’s definitely an added somberness to the atmosphere. For this if nothing else, I recommend catching the play before it and Whistler and the Dark exit the doors of Charlestown Working Theatre forever.