Escape from Happiness packs a punch

A toaster slams into a criminal’s head.  He spins around and a refrigerator door slams him from behind. The man who threw the toaster takes him down and tries to pin him to the floor. This isn’t the scene of a real life crime. This a part of the play “Escape from Happiness.”

The play runs from Feb. 16 to 22 at 7:30 p.m. every day in the Fishback Theater of the Performing Arts Center with a matinee Sunday, Feb. 21 at 2 p.m. Tickets are still available at the State University Theatre box office or online at sdstate.tix.com.

The “Escape from Happiness” play is set in a modern day city with a dysfunctional family plagued with unfortunate events. Allie Kantack, one of the actresses, said the characters “struggle to love each other” properly but try to overcome their challenges together. 

It is more contemporary than most plays the Theatre Department typically chooses to perform, according to Brittney McClendon, one of the actresses. The play has more stage combat than usual and the characters are crazier, she said.

“It’s fun to do a combat-heavy show,” McClendon said. 

Director of the play, Jim Wood, teaches a stage combat theatre class on campus, and some of the students who were in the class are in the play. 

Kantack took the class and is excited to put her new skills into an actual play. She said it takes practice to use all of the props and not to hurt anyone.

The actors run each fight scene every practice to commit it to muscle memory so that it looks natural, Wood said.

“The basic premise behind stage combat is not actual fighting, but the illusion of fighting,” Wood said.

Learning to stage fright is time-consuming as well. For a three-minute combat scene, it takes about 12 to 16 hours to choreograph, learn it and act it out safely, Wood said.

Actress Erin Stein said it’s weird to have as crazy of characters in a show, and it’s a really over exaggerated version of life. She does enjoy playing a different type of character. She doesn’t do much of the stage combat, but she enjoys watching it. 

“The boys really enjoy [the stage fighting],” she said.

Wood said the play covers many disciplines and not just stage combat. 

“The best part about this play is that it is a comedy but covers deeper issues,” Wood said. 

The play has underlying issues of physical abuse, emotional abuse and police brutality he said. Every play has a subtext, and according to Wood, this play has more subtext and deeper meaning than most. 

“I really like how it is a unique genre,” Kantack said. “I really look forward to see how the audience responds.”