a surreal comedy by George F. Walker
artwork by CAP Designs

October 7 - 9, 14 - 16 at 8 PM
October 10 & 17 at 2 PM
Trueblood Theatre

press release | program | photographs

Press Release
The University of Michigan's Department of Theatre and Drama will open its 1999-2000 season with "Escape from Happiness, a brutally dark domestic comedy by the prolific Canadian playwright George F. Walker. "Escape from Happiness" is a very funny, very black, slice-of-life comedy that reveals how a family - an enormously dysfunctional family - deals with police brutality when a bizarre incident provokes police involvement. The play will run for eight performances over two weeks from October 7 through October 17, at the Trueblood Theatre in Ann Arbor. Walker's work is liberally seasoned with profanity and vividly etched violence.

"Escape from Happiness" is being presented in loving memory of Sarah Emily Metzger, a BFA directing major in the department, who was killed in an auto accident last winter. Although only a first-year student at the time of her death, Sarah had chosen to direct this very work during this year's Basement Arts season. Following her tragic death, the U-M Theatre Department decided to present the George F. Walker play in her memory. "Escape from Happiness" is directed by John Neville-Andrews, an associate professor and Head of Performance in the Department of Theatre and Drama.

"Escape from Happiness" is part of George F. Walker's "East End Trilogy," which also includes the plays "Criminals in Love" and "Better Living." These are three comedies about the same family, the Dawsons. Neville-Andrews calls the trilogy, "the Dawson family journey. Each play in the series," he says, "has its own theme, but surrounding that theme we find a family caught up in turmoil and confusion. The Dawsons are always in the process of coming to terms with their own dysfunction. The theme in "Escape from Happiness" is police brutality, or rather, one woman's crusade to put an end to police brutality and another woman's attempt to thwart that campaign. Because it's a story about family, we find tender moments amidst the violence."

Neville-Andrews continues: "In "Escape from Happiness," we enter the world of a uniquely dysfunctional, self-consciously insular, working-class family whose response to the predicaments that occur in life is defensive and extreme. Yet, strangely enough, we know these people! Walker has succeeded in creating a fascinating household of clearly recognizable people - in various stages of denial - who have perfectly sound reasons for doing whatever crazy things they do. Clear-sighted but profoundly myopic, these people believe in what they are doing; they are driven by passions so strong that their insane behavior seems perfectly rational to them. And we, the audience, look in on their disordered lives with both disbelief and alarming comprehension."

Neville-Andrews claims that "there is absolutely no subtext in this play; the characters say what they mean, and mean what they say. The play is so visceral," he contends, "that the emotion and intention of every character is immediate. It's life experienced at the fingertips. The characters do exactly what weÕd like to do in life but lack the guts. Walker's people are brutally honest and speak in a stream of immediate thought." Neville-Andrews is clearly an unabashed George F. Walker fan and has been an avid proponent of his works for years (he directed be the Michigan premiere of Walker's comedy "Better Living" with the U-of-M's Group Theatre in 1998). The director calls Walker, "one of the most important playwrights of this generation." Neville-Andrews notes that Walker possesses a voice that is "unique in today's theater," equating the Canadian dramatist's work with those of Joe Orton (author of Loot), or of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction). "Walker is a down to earth blue-collar playwright with a vibrant, vivid, deliberate style of playwrighting; there's no dramaturgical chicanery in his work. But there is a rough and ready quality in it that is very refreshing." Neville-Andrews continues, "Escape from Happiness" is a spoken opera, and Walker uses language as an active force; it's torrential and non-stop." The director encourages audiences to "Come with an open mind. This is not a walk in the park, rather, it's an emotional roller coaster; a very funny - extremely funny - play."

Dramatist George F. Walker was born and raised in Toronto's east end (the setting for many of his plays) and was a cab driver in that city during the early 1970s. Walker got his start in theatre after responding to a poster for Toronto's Factory Theatre Laboratory requesting original scripts; he's been writing plays ever since. He is a prolific writer and has published dozens of works in the past twenty years. His play "Escape from Happiness" received a DORA Award (the Canadian equivalent of the Tony Award) for Outstanding Play of the Year in 1992. The same work has also been given the Chalmers Canadian Play Award, and the Governor General's Literary Award. Walker's most recently published work is "Suburban Motel" (1997).

Escape from Happiness features a design and artistic team that includes Tim Reynolds (Scenic Design), Damian Caza-Cleypool (Lighting Design), and Dominick Veldman (Costumes): all are undergraduates in the Theatre DepartmentÕs BFA program in Design and Production.

Click here to view the Escape from Happiness program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

Aimee Clark as Gail Julia Simple as Mary Ann Krista Braun as Elizabeth

Markitwia Jackson as Junior Charlie Jett as Tom Dara Seitzman as Nora

Angela Lewis as Dian Anthony von Halle as Mike James Frounfelter as Stevie and Steve Best as Rolly