Sir Alan Ayckbourn was in New York this past weekend polishing up his staging of the three evenings of theatre he has brought us to officially welcome the delights of spring. The weather turned balmy and breezy, but not until the first of the plays opened a week ago, and I’m convinced it did so to honor Sir Alan’s return with his company of Brits who are so brilliant at inhabiting his beautifully drawn middle class average folks, warts and all.
I caught the one called Farcicles which consists of two one-act comedies, Chloe With Love and The Kidderminster Affair. Both are concerned with Penny and Reg who live down the street from Lottie and Ted. The question is does Ted still love Lottie, or is their marriage on automatic pilot? A mysterious and exotic Chloe enters the picture and things get a bit out of hand, leading to love, lust and a loss of trousers.
I marvel at how Ayckbourn can send an audience into gales of laughter without the use of jokes, or even particularly funny dialog. No, he simply puts his people into situations of their own making, and lets nature take its course. There isn’t a lot of plot to either of these 45 minute plays, so you won’t get any details from me, but if you want a good laugh about matters in everyday “normal” marriages, you’ll keep an eye out for any of the Ayckbourn oeuvre that comes your way. The current three evenings comprise his 77th and 78th plays, and the man is only 75 years old.
I’ve met Mr. Ayckbourn, as I spent a happy year working in his trilogy, the masterful The Norman Conquests. I was merely the standby to one of the six stars who played it in Los Angeles and on Broadway in 1975-76, and though I never went on, I had the great pleasure of rehearsing the three plays twice a week before audiences of friends and others we were permitted to invite.
To learn the lines in an Ayckbourn play is to better understand the genius of this gifted and prolific writer, who understands his fellow Brits better than anyone on earth, and by writing about them with specificity, he makes them identifiable to all, though I’ve never seen them played more deliciously than with his own company of actors. All through his career, he has started the plays off with a tryout at his home base in Scarborough, England in the Stephen Joseph Theatre, of which he has been artistic director. It’s remarkable that this elfin gentleman can continue to sound wise but youthful, remarkable too that he has retained affection for his characters, though they often make disastrous choices as they lurch along on life’s highway.
The second half of the Farcicles evening is set in Teddy’s back yard, the occasion is his barbecue dinner for Lottie and Reg, fixed on the grille. As played by a perfect quartet of Ayckbourn players, (and what a grand bunch they are) Sarah Stanley’s “Lottie” is the perfect match for best friend “Penny” as played by Elizabeth Boag. And best pals Ted and Reggie could not be in better hands than those of Kim Wall and Bill Chamption. The four of them seem to have been married forever, and best friends for almost as long. Under Master Ayckbourn’s sure fire direction, which allows them much freedom to fling themselves about when flinging is what is most needed, we’re guaranteed delivery of pitch perfect timing. The fact that Kidderminster is the unlikely place where an unfortunate incident happened years ago makes it necessary for the town never to be mentioned aloud by these four. How they avoid doing that seasons the comic stew and pays off brilliantly.
If you’re interested in a light hearted much ado about nothing, come see this delicious springtime gift from Blitey delivered in person by its author/director, the amazing and ever young Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
Farcicals: A Double Bill of Frivolous Comedies is playing through June 29, 2014 in Theatre A at 59E59 along with Alan Ayckbourn’s Arrivals & Departures and Time of My Life.
Details and tickets
Richard Seff, Broadway performer, agent, playwright, librettist, columnist adds novelist to his string of accomplishments, with the publication of his first novel, TAKE A GIANT STEP. His first book, Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrates his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes. Both books are available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
He has also written the book to SHINE! The Horatio Alger Musical which was a triple prize winner at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF).
Each year, Actors Equity recognizes the year’s most outstanding supporting player with, appropriately enough, the Richard Seff Award.