Play viewers left thinking of meaning of ‘Far Away’

Breanne Gilpatrick

From the Canadians and the mosquitoes to the Latvian dentists, the Portuguese car salesmen and the children under 5 — everything and everyone is on a side.

At least that’s how life works in the world of “Far Away” the latest production by Next Theatre Company, an Evanston drama group. The surreal 50-minute play by Caryl Churchill opened Monday night to a crowd of about 120 people at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. The production is directed by Lisa Portes, who also worked with last year’s Next show “In the Blood.”

“(‘Far Away’) is about how choosing sides is a part of growing up and how you’re always on a side,” said Chelsea Cutler, communications manager for Next Theatre Company. “You’re never by yourself, and your alliances help to define who you are — whether you like that or not.”

In “Far Away,” Joan (played by Karen Aldridge) and Todd (Dan Kuhlman) fall in love in a millinery shop making fanciful hats shaped like Christmas trees, tea pots and giant birds. The hats are worn by a parade of ghastly prisoners of war played by members of different Evanston community organizations.

Monday night’s performance featured members of the Evanston-based organization Better Existence With HIV such as Luciano Medellin, the group’s educational outreach coordinator. Rehearsals for the parade scene took several hours because participants had to master the correct tempo and shuffle, he said.

“It’s just a lot more work than I even realized,” Medellin said. “Just to do the parade took some work. I didn’t realize that.”

In the end Joan’s aunt Harper (Wendy Robie) asks Joan and Todd to take sides in a world where even gravity and light have alliances.

“The Bolivians are working with gravity,” Joan warns in the third act, “and there are thousands dead of light in Madagascar.”

A brief chat with Jason Loewith, the play’s artistic director, follows each show to help audience members understand the production.

“These discussions are about talking to us about what you just saw,” Loewith said at the beginning of the discussion. “And normally the first question is, ‘What did I just see?'”

Cutler said she acknowledges the play might be atypical, with an unusual structure and no clear answers.

“The text is much more surreal,” Cutler said. “It is not set in a particular time or place. It doesn’t give those sort of answers to grab onto.”

Deerfield, Ill., resident Rae Brody, 74, said she couldn’t even think of the right words to explain the experience.

“It’s just something to think about and to see,” she said. “I can’t even describe it, but it was very good.”

Kate Hamburg, 21, of Chicago, said she liked the play’s ambiguity.

“I really appreciate the way it asks questions and doesn’t answer them for you the way a lot of plays do,” Hamburg said.

But Cutler said she doesn’t expect the audience to draw any specific message from the performance.

“It doesn’t address specific nations or political issues or political figures,” Cutler said. “But it’s about that muddy context about who we’re really fighting and who the enemy really is.”

“Far Away”

Feb. 16-March 14

The Next Theater Company

Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St.

Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $18-$29 with discounts for students and seniors; call 847-475-1875