Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” is a modern day Greek drama in all the best ways. Her spare dystopian tale of a society and world at war with themselves has echoes of Aeschylus and Euripides, still, after thousands of years, addressing issues of morality, hypocrisy and mortality.
Even with those ancient echoes, “Far Away,” now onstage at Torn Space Theater, has a distinctly modern message. In fact, given recent events, seeing this production may resonate more powerfully with the audiences than even Churchill expected.
The story takes place in three acts, a following girl named Joan as she becomes aware of the difference between what she sees and what she is being told.
Friday night, in the wake of the Parkland shootings, it was almost jarring to see Orchard Park freshman Allison Barsi as Joan questioning Harper, her guardian, about disturbing things she has seen. Bonnie Jean Taylor as Harper is frighteningly calm and familiar in her denials of what Joan knows is true.
You see, Joan had gotten a glimpse of things she wasn’t supposed to see: people being pushed, people being transported, people being beaten, blood on the ground and screams in the night.
It was a party, Harper claims. Someone fell, Harper deflects. The shrieks were an owl, Harper pretends. It is nothing bad, Harper lies.
And so on, with Joan getting more and more pointed in her push for honest answers, sounding much like Florida high school kids who called out politicians this week for answers on why their friends were shot.
When Harper is finally cornered and out of lies, she switches tactics to trying to recruit Joan to her, or is it their?, side.
“You found out something secret,” Taylor purrs. “You know that, don’t you?”
The set by Kristina Siegel adds a vivid dimension to the conversation. A small translucent hut set in the middle of the floor, it shifts and wobbles with every question and every lie, constructed on a foundation as shaky as what remains of the society where the two women live, until, in the end, it all falls apart.
A slightly older Joan (Corinne McLoughlin) next appears in a more pragmatic position, but an equally creative set, working in a factory with Todd (Kalub Thompson) making hats and hoping for better things.
Todd fails to reassure, telling her right off the bat, “You’ll find there a lot wrong with this place.”
But, Joan, says, she thought this was one of the best jobs people could get.
"It is,” Todd responds.
And so on.
In his program notes, director Dan Shanahan writes that Churchill offers little in the way of stage direction. She would be impressed with what Torn Space has done. The crumbling of natural boundaries, with butterflies and cats and musicians and mallards all taking sides with the Koreans or Latvians or Sweden or Japan, somehow seems possible in the world of the Torn Space stage, even as the elephants align with the Dutch.
Welcome to the future, a place only slightly more extreme than the now.
As someone once said to me after a night with Aeschylus’ “Orestia,” “I can’t stop thinking about that play.”
4 stars (out of four)
Caryl Churchill's spare and innovative dystopian tale resonates with the modern world's ongoing war with itself. Presented by Torn Space Theater, 612 Fillmore Ave., through March 11. Get tickets at tornspacetheater.com.