Drugs and alcohol, anger and insanity, police corruption and (semi-) organized crime. Welcome to Escape from Happiness, a darkly comic portrait of a highly idiosyncratic family by Canadian playwright George F. Walker.
In November, the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present six performances in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre. Shows begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11 and 12; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12. Shows continue the following weekend at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18 and 19; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20.
Tickets are $15 — $9 for students, senior citizens and Washington University faculty and staff — and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets. The A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 935-6543.
Set in a rough Toronto neighborhood, Escape from Happiness tells the story of Nora (graduate student Ann Marie Mohr) and her three adult daughters: the dutiful Gail (junior Lauren Dusek), activist lawyer Elizabeth (senior Laura Harrison) and self-help junkie Mary-Ann (senior Barrie Golden). Rejoining the family after a 10-year disappearance is Tom (senior Matt Goldman), Nora’s ex-cop husband — though Nora insists that the semi-catatonic man now living upstairs merely resembles her children’s father.
“This is a very close-knit, if terrifically eccentric, family,” says director William Whitaker, senior lecturer in the PAD. “The women are very blunt and in-your-face, almost editor-free. Whatever they’re thinking or feeling or is in their heart, they just say it.”
Whitaker compares Escape from Happiness to classic American comedies such as You Can’t Take It with You, Moss Hart and George S. Kauffman’s 1936 screwball portrait of a quirky Brooklyn household. Yet it also contains grittier, almost Tarantino-like elements.
The play opens with Gail’s husband, Junior (senior Jake Koenig) lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. Sent to investigate are Diane and Mike (juniors Elizabeth Neukirch and Robert McLemore), a pair of mismatched police officers who believe the attack might be linked to organized crime. Instead, they discover drugs in the family basement and arrest Nora for possession.
“It’s a very fierce and very funny little play,” Whitaker adds. “And for all the outrageousness, in some ways it’s also very conservative. Despite the terrible things that happen, this seemingly hopeless little family is able to stick together and rise above.”
Rounding out the 10-person cast are junior Mike Nickolai and graduate student Justin Rincker as Stevie and Rolly, a pair of local hoodlums. The production team is led by costume designer Leah Batten, a junior in Arts & Sciences, and set designer David Kruger, visiting artist in residence.
Walker, a former taxi driver who turned to drama in the early 1970s, is one of Canada’s most frequently produced playwrights and the author of 26 published works. He is perhaps best known for The East End Plays, a cycle of six interrelated works set in a single Toronto neighborhood. These include Escape from Happiness (1991) as well as Criminals in Love (1984), Better Living (1986), Beautiful City (1987), Love and Anger (1989) and Tough! (1993).
WHO: Performing Arts Department
WHAT: Escape from Happiness, by George F. Walker, directed by William Whitaker
WHEN: 8 p.m. Nov. 11, 12, 18 and 19; 2 p.m. Nov. 13 and 20
WHERE: A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
COST:$15; $9 for seniors, students and Washington University faculty and staff. Available at the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.
INFORMATION: (314) 935-6543