So long, farewell
Far Away and The Farewells
For Vista Players’ final production, artistic director Aram Kouyoumdjian selected two short plays. Far Away is a recent dystopian script by noted English playwright Caryl Churchill, and The Farewells is a new play Kouyoumdjian wrote himself.
Far Away is mysteriously scary and extremely funny at the same time. Over three scenes, we hear about bloody refugees being rescued (or taken prisoner?); we see a strange “parade” of nervous models whose hands are tied and who are wearing extravagant hats; and we eavesdrop on a bizarre war in which small nations and animal species have formed internecine, shifting alliances in a devastating total war.
The Farewells hits closer to home, tracking two couples as they face decisions that threaten to snap each relationship. One couple is gay (oddly, we don’t see them together until the play’s final scene), and their stability is unsettled by a huge career opportunity. The other couple is straight, but their bond frays over a regretted decision they made when they married.
Such situations occur all too often in life. Kouyoumdjian shows his characters in turmoil but counterbalances their plight with flashes of incisive humor. The ability to make light of a dreadful situation momentarily is a plus for this Vista Players production. In the past, this theater company of serious intent—would that we had more like it!— occasionally has become earnest to a fault.
The evening shimmers with careful planning. As with all Vista efforts, there is an original score (by Ken Press), a handsome set (by Alan Tollefson), skillful costumes (Ellen Riddell’s loopy hats in particular), thoughtful program notes and excellent casting (actors Jan Ahders, Claire Lipschultz, Jessica Mayhew, JD Rudometkin and others). Kouyoumdjian’s choice of scripts is perennially admirable. Quite simply, this little group has done more things right, more of the time, than almost all of the competition—including several local companies that hire Equity actors.
This show also serves as an end bracket to Vista’s five-year run, made of eight productions. Looking back, I realized I reviewed them all. Taken together, they form a stronger body of work than any other community theater group has staged in the same period. This show isn’t necessarily Vista’s strongest in every regard (Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was in a category by itself). Still, you should catch it if you can. Let’s hope that, as Vista Players fades, other groups will benefit from the example of what can be accomplished.