Ayckbourn Ensemble: In brief
The Stephen Joseph Theatre returns to the Brits Off Broadway fest with three shows (in rep) by its erstwhile leader, the extraordinarily prolific English treasure Alan Ayckbourn—Arrivals & Departures, Time of My Life and Farcicals: A Double Bill of Frivolous Comedies—all directed by the playwright himself.
Arrivals & Departures. 59E59 Theaters (see Off Broadway). Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn. With Elizabeth Boag, Kim Wall. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. Theater review by Diane Snyder.
It doesn’t matter that one of the main characters in Arrivals & Departures isn’t up for conversation. Barry (Wall), a fiftyish traffic warden who still retains a childlike openness, talks enough for both himself and Ez (Boag), the soldier guarding him at a London train station where he’s been brought to identify a terrorist. Alan Ayckbourn’s clever and unexpectedly moving 77th play allows the British master dramatist to take satirical jabs at the military, but the real strikes come in the minds of his protagonists; as they wait, the location reminds the somber Ez and amiable Barry of pivotal comings and goings in their own lives—snippets acted out with other members of the 13-person cast.
The first act explores how Ez’s bright military career fell apart, but the most stirring moments come after intermission, as the same scene plays out from Barry’s point of view, gradually revealing that his sunny exterior shelters years of pain and disappointment. Ayckbourn can overwrite at times, but he coaxes a beautifully truthful performance from Wall, who, even when Barry stops talking, speaks soliloquies with his eyes.—Theater review by Diane Snyder
THE BOTTOM LINE All aboard with the marvelous Alan Ayckbourn.
Prolific British dramatist Alan Ayckbourn plays with time and structure like a grandmaster. Time of My Life, a quietly stimulating 1992 work getting its NYC premiere, moves backward and forward, and also stays in the present, as the wealthy Strattons celebrate the 54th birthday of judgmentally blunt mother Laura (Sarah Parks).
The play begins as the festivities end. Ayckbourn follows Laura and husband Gerry (Russell Dixon) through a very dark evening, alternating their conversation with scenes of elder son Glyn and wife Stephanie (Richard Stacey and Emily Pithon), set after that night, and ones of younger son Adam and wrong-side-of-the-tracks fiancée Maureen (James Powell and Rachel Caffrey), which take place before. Everything happens at the same unspecified ethnic restaurant, where one actor (Ben Porter) broadly plays all the waiters.
As a director, Ayckbourn is keenly attuned to the rhythms of his work, so he gets affecting performances as, scene by scene, he peels back each character’s layers and shows the destructive force Laura exerts on her stagnant sons. There may be less satire here compared to other Ayckbourn plays, but there’s still plenty of bite.—Theater review by Diane Snyder
THE BOTTOM LINE Ayckbourn's drama travels time with ease.
Follow Diane Snyder on Twitter: @DianeLSnyder