Constellation Theatre Company’s impeccably cast production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Taking Steps delivers buckets full of laughs. A clever twist of a British farce, the show is presented at Source on 14th Street, NW through October 7.
Beds to hop in and out of? Check.
Multiple entrances used in clever ways? Check again.
Mistaken identities and near missed discoveries? Ditto, and check.
If Alan Ayckbourn’s comic gem Taking Steps were a standard farce, we could stop there and you’d have it in a nutshell. Not so, however, with this riotous play that lives somewhere between No Sex Please, We’re British and the corner of Noises Off and Black Comedy.
Ayckbourn’s conceit for Taking Steps is to take the setting and level the playing field – literally. In a drafty English house, the attic, master bedroom, living room and stairs all occupy the same plain. Even the staircases are flattened out, making for some very funny dashing about. The audience is on all sides of the arena-setting, filled with the skewered suggestions of the rooms and levels.
That gives you some idea of the physical production now delightfully on display at Source Theatre where Constellation Theatre Company is presenting Taking Steps in a fast-paced romp of a show.
Director Allison Arkell Stockman and her design collaborators have given the play just the right atmosphere to represent the dilapidated London home, a former brothel known as the Pines. Scenic designer A.J. Guban gives the play an elegant fun house sensibility, where all levels of the three story house are superimposed on the other. The atmospheric lighting by Cory Ryan Frank works to great advantage to isolate the multiple levels and rooms of the creaky old house. The actors have fun turning on the lights in the numerous hallways, helping the audience buy the gimmick.
As a whole, Stockman has emphasized the proper sense of heightened style and revved up energy that helps pull off a show like this. Her gifted farceurs are able to find nearly every laugh possible out of the script and characters.
The play opens with former dancer Elizabeth – the vivacious Tia Shearer – confiding in her brother Mark – Hugh Laurie lookalike Dylan Myers. She is about to leave her bucket tycoon husband and wants Mark’s help. He has relationship troubles of his own, since his fiancé jilted him on the day of their intended wedding. (In a hilarious running gag, Mark also tends to rattle on about himself which puts anyone who listens to sleep.)
As Elizabeth and Mark work out her exit strategy, a knock on the door brings in the painfully tongue-tied and easily addled Tristram, a solicitor who comes to work out the purchase of the house. Elizabeth’s husband Roland is trying to buy the property.
As Tristram, Matthew McGee oozes awkwardness with every fiber of his being. When other characters ask him a question, his expressions alone are worth the price of admission. The character’s challenges with making definitive statements are the turn for several of the plays funniest scenes. McGee’s Tristram nearly steals the show more than once.
Elizabeth’s unsuspecting husband Roland arrives to talk over the business details with Tristram. As a man who revels in his wealth and healthy drinking habits, Roland is played with British bluster by Matthew R. Wilson. We also meet Leslie, the seller of the house – a solid supporting performance from Doug Wilder – who stops by to do business with Roland.
With nearly all the players under one roof, Mark returns with his would-be fiancé Kitty, played with innocent zest by Megan Graves. Mark is willing to let bygones be bygones and pick up where they left off, whereas Kitty wanes on her commitment to her sleep-inducing beau.
Like all well-made situation comedies, by the end of the first act, the stage is like a stovetop filled with tea kettles ready to boil. One marriage is on the verge of collapse, another not yet started; the high stakes house sale is nearly sabotaged by a stammering junior attorney. Throw in some alcohol and sleeping pills, bedroom mistaken identities, and the possibility of the house being haunted and you have a taste of the mayhem that follows.
The actors work as a well-oiled machine while creating distinctive and vivid characters who are perfectly at home in Ayckbourn’s world of clever dialogue and fraught relationships. The heightened action, especially on the single-level-as-the-entire-house set, performed in the round is a perfect compliment to the demands of the script.
Thanks to Taking Steps, Constellation Theatre Company has a winning combination for the opening of season number six.
Taking Steps, by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, featuring Megan Graves, Matthew McGee, Dylan Myers, Tia Shearer, Matthew R. Wilson, and Doug Wilder. A.J. Guban (Set), Kendrai Rai (Costumes), Cory Ryan Frank (Lights), Brendon Vierra (Sound), Cheryl Gnerlich (Stage Manager), Kevin Laughon (Props), Ashley Ivey (Assistant Director), Matthew R. Wilson (Fight Choreographer.