Carlo Albán and Samantha Soule in Escape
(© Carol Rosegg)
Carlo Albán and Samantha Soule in Escape
(© Carol Rosegg)
It's hard to go wrong with troupers like Carlo Albán, Samantha Soule, and Susan Louise O'Connor, all of whom grace Susan Mosakowski's amusing if lightweight farce, Escape, now at La MaMa's First Floor Theatre, under the direction of Gaye Taylor Upchurch.

The work starts out as a tale of comically ineffective men, and the women who love them, but it evolves into a story of six characters in search of a way out of the increasingly bleak prospects of their lives.

Albán, who starts the evening off with a great piece of stage business, could not be more charming throughout as a budding magician named Harry Houdini III. Doggedly determined to live up to his famous grandfather's fame, Albán's character shows few signs to his exasperated wife, Bess (the terrific Soule), that he inherited anything more than the name itself.

Lauren Fortgang adds depths of feeling to her portrayal of a shapely young actress named Marilyn (feel free to draw connections) whose desire to escape her various bondages is handicapped by equally severe cases of agoraphobia and Stockholm Syndrome. Her captor, played with subtle inflections by John Sharian, is a would-be terrorist calling himself Daddy whose Arabic accent quickly evolves through a panoply of identities, finally settling on his native Flatbush.

Then there's Lily (O'Connor) who can't seem to quit her guy, Gus (Ted Schneider), even as he stockpiles automatic weapons and paranoid fantasies with matching fervor. O'Connor and Schneider have perhaps the toughest assignments in the production, turning a potentially ugly domestic picture -- one of the neighbors cruelly but not inaccurately describes them as "white trash" -- into one that bristles with dangerous but passionate chemistry.

Mosakowski has some success weaving a series of blackout sketches around these stories into an overlapping, farcical mosaic. The three couples are seen, each isolated in the respective fiefdoms of their apartments in a big city somewhere (the simple but efficient set design is by Lauren Helpern), until the vignettes begin to bleed into one another, and coffins and strait jackets suddenly start flying from scene to scene.

There are a number of laughs along the way and some timely snapshots of people struggling at the lower ends of the economic ladder. But the proceedings ultimately never rise above the clichés of an average sitcom.