by Alison Hallett
Portland Mercury, Thursday, February 9, 2006
Liminal’s production of British playwright Caryl Churchill’s Far Away is their first with neither artistic director Bryan Markovitz nor choreographer Amanda Boekelheide at the helm—and it shows.
The first scene is the best, in the sense that it has a discernable point. While staying with her aunt and uncle, young Joan (Hallie Blashfield) sees her uncle unload a group of people from a van and lock them into a shed. The ground, she tells her aunt, is covered in blood. Aunt Harper (Jennifer Olson) reassures the girl, saying anything necessary to get her to stop asking questions and go back to bed. As they speak, Joan pulls and leans on her aunt, creating a literal tug of war between lies and the truth. It’s a disturbing scene, and the talented Blashfield brings a gravitas to the role of Joan that goes unmatched in the rest of the production.
In the next scene, Joan (now played by Madeleine Sanford) is all grown up and working as a hat designer. Along with her coworker Todd (Jeff Marchant), she’s concerned about work conditions in the factory: a typical Churchill-ian social concern that’s revealed as ridiculous and trivial, since the hats made in the factory are worn by political prisoners as they march toward execution. In the final scene, the world has entered into a state of total war, where elephants and cats take sides along with nations, the weather, and “children under five.”
Liminal seems determined to muddy Churchill’s plot points, obfuscating what should be Joan’s clear-cut transformation from innocent, curious child to zealous, militaristic adult. The hat parade looks more like a parody of a performance art piece than a line of prisoners marching toward death. Hackneyed video effects don’t help either—in fact, the only production element that actually works is kollodi’s whimsical hat design. Liminal has never been a particularly warm theater company, but the alienation they inflict on the audience has always been at least thought provoking. Far Away’s detachment has all the coolness without any of the vision—and that’s just rude.