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Manbites Dog Theater Preview: In Far Away, a Cozy Cottage Becomes Something Far More Sinister

June 3, 2004 - Durham, NC:

Manbites Dog Theater, in association with the Pennsylvania-based theater laboratory Our Shoes Are Red, will present Far Away, an intriguing new political play by British playwright Caryl Churchill (Cloud Nine and Top Girls), June 4-19 in its theater in downtown Durham, NC. The show stars top Triangle actress Marcia Edmundson and Alison Hinks and Matthew DiBiasio; and its production team includes director Devon Allen, scenic and lighting designer Brian Slocum, costume designer Derrick Ivey, and card designer Alison Hinks.

Five dollars from every $15 ticket sold for Friday's opening-night benefit performance and post-show reception will go to Durham's AIDS Community Residence Association (http://www.aids-residence.org/ [inactive 8/04]). Founded in 1987, ACRA provides "diverse, supportive housing options and compassionate care for individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS," according to the mission statement on its web page.

The world-premiere production of Far Away, staged by theater and motion-picture director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) and starring stage and screen actress Linda Bassett (Nelly Boxall in The Hours), debuted at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in London's Royal Court Theatre on Nov. 23, 2000 and played to sold-out houses throughout its maiden run, which ended Dec. 22, 2000. Far Away subsequently transferred to the Albery Theatre in London's West End, where it played from Jan. 18 to March 3, 2001.

In reviewing the original production of Far Away, The Financial Times claimed, "Caryl Churchill is the most original playwright in Britain. She writes like a visionary, a poet, an absurdist, a politician, a satirist. She writes the plays she needs to write, not the plays that theatres want to present. Her new play, Far Away, is only 50 minutes long [and] has a large cast (only four of whom speak).... Churchill's nightmare vision holds its audience. Poetry, absurdism, moral seriousness, all come together."

Time Out of London wrote, "The painted drop suggests an idyllic retreat: a whitewashed cottage nestling in the hills. Playwright Caryl Churchill, however, has something spookier in mind. In its three brief scenes, 'Far Away' recalls Pinter's 'Party Time,' as well as Orwell's '1984' and 'Animal Farm.' Churchill has never written anything more chilling than the first scene in which a poised young girl, Joan, comes down from her bedroom dragging her soft toy behind her.… [Her] aunt sits sewing by the light of a single lamp.… [The] girl starts to ask questions about what she has seen. The aunt tries, unsuccessfully, to fob her off. Remorselessly, our perception of the cottage changes from cozy hideaway to hostile outpost where lorry loads of people arrive secretly [destined for] an uncertain fate."

Later, a grownup Joan becomes a hat maker, of all things. "A sedate, unthreatening profession surely?" mused Time Out. "But it slowly emerges that she and Todd, her workmate, are expending their talent on creations to be worn in a terrible fashion. They moan about their working conditions but have little interest in the wider barbarities in which they are themselves involved and which, by the final scene, have led to a complete breakdown of both the environment and society with some very strange alliances being formed."

The Daily Mail called Far Away "the most astonishing new play of the year"; and The Sunday Telegraph said, "Here, as in previous plays, Churchill moves into new territory by inventing new speech habits; in this case, a prosaic acceptance of extreme horror coupled with the old language of middle-class values which lingers on like a twinge in a phantom limb."

The Sunday Times declared, "Caryl Churchill's Far Away is a terrible play, the Yeatsian sense of terrible beauty. It is only 45 minutes long, but it packs the substance of several full-length dramas. It is an apocalyptic play, a play of Armageddon created by its victims. The hats may be a metaphor, as Todd says, but not, as he thinks, ephemeral. Humanity can prey upon itself like monsters of the deep, but in the meantime it is quite capable of manufacturing gewgaws and fretting about contracts. It is a question of silent consent, of turning a blind eye, of not standing up for any body until, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, there is nobody left to stand up for you."

Second Opinion: June 2nd Independent Weekly preview by Byron Woods: http://indyweek.com/durham/current/woods.html.

Manbites Dog Theater, in association with Our Shoes Are Red, presents Far Away Friday-Saturday, June 4-5, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, June 6, at 3:15 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, June 10-12 and 17-19, at 8:15 p.m. at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $10 on Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday, except June 3rd pay-what-you-can sneak preview ($5 minimum). 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150 [inactive 8/04]. Note 1: The June 4th performance will be an Opening Night Benefit for Durham's AIDS Community Residence Association (http://www.aids-residence.org/ [inactive 8/04]), with a reception following the show and $5 of each $15 ticket donated to ACRA. Note 2: There After the June 6th matinee, there will be a post-performance conversation with the show's director and actors. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/.