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'Escape' Plays Out With Intensity of Prime-Time Movie


Born 75 years later, John Galsworthy no doubt would have found a lucrative career as a television writer.

Sure, he won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1932. But his 1927 play "Escape!" now revived at the Chandler Studio, reminds us that the theater was--and can be--as easy to watch as TV. "Escape!" has that mix of comedy and drama, suspense and adventure that makes for that kind of popular storytelling. It's also so straightforward that the plot would be stretched to fill, say, a one-hour episode of "Matlock."

As directed and produced by Michael Holmes, "Escape!" moves along at a pleasant clip. As it opens, Matt Denant (Joseph Dean Vachon) chats with a prostitute in Hyde Park, who is then arrested for "accosting" him. Denant protests, only to wind up accidentally killing the policeman. The next scene--or episode, as it is called in the program--is Denant at Dartmoor Prison. With years left on his sentence, he runs off into a thick fog.

And we're off, following Denant--who escaped from Germany during the Great War--as he attempts to work his way across the moor to freedom. Vachon is amiable enough in the role, a little reminiscent of Robert Donat in "The 39 Steps." A pattern is quickly established: Someone is going about their business, Denant bursts in, he tricks/charms/is indulged by them, he leaves.

The success of each episode depends largely on the supporting cast. Kelly Franett and Jeana Blackman are clever as a husband and wife. Diana Angelina is also funny as the gentlewoman clearly taken by Denant's good looks. But an episode with four picnickers drags and falls out of focus.

The subtext here is Denant moves easily among his own class; he is privileged even in his attempt to escape the law. The upper-crust people are willing to give him "a sporting chance." The commoners don't suspect him of being wanted because he speaks like a gentleman.

Vachon does manage to keep his British accent in check. Other members of the cast, particularly the constables, slip into that generic non-American accent, the one that sounds at moments slightly Irish, at others, vaguely Southern.

Holmes, who is artistic director of the Action/Reaction Theatre Company, makes the most of his tiny black box. The staging keeps multiple actors moving about, but without ever feeling like a door-slamming farce. Still, when nearly two dozen actors pour out for the curtain call, you can't believe they've all fit on that small stage.


"Escape!" at the Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood. Friday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m., through Oct. 19. $12.50. (818) 908-4094.

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