Hero's Welcome and Confusions
Time Out says
Hero’s Welcome: Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
Having churned out some 79 plays over 55 years, Alan Ayckbourn could easily have run out of plot twists—but this seemingly facile master is far from depleted. Even though his latest work incorporates soap-opera elements—“a wedding that never was,” a long-held grudge or two—he engineers some real surprises, ranging from poignant to sensationalist.
The dramatic machinery is as well oiled as the shotgun that Brad (Stephen Billington), a sneering toff, sloppily props against a sofa at the beginning of the first act. He rightly assumes that his self-effacing wife, Kara (a touching Charlotte Harwood), will tidy up in his wake. But that firearm, apparently cognizant of Chekhov’s dictum, is rarely out of sight (or mind) for long.
Michael Holt’s tidy set fits three distinct milieus onto a tiny stage. We meet Murray (Richard Stacey), the hero in question, during a TV interview. Just back from a 17-year stint serving Great Britain’s interests abroad (exact arena left intentionally vague), he has been awarded a medal for singlehandedly evacuating a “kiddies’ hospital” caught in a crossfire. “I think I was the only one daft enough,” he demurs, jaw muscles clenching.
Murray’s real prize is a baby-faced bride of indeterminate origin (Evelyn Hoskins), whose octo-syllabic name he has fondly abridged to Baba. Initially, Baba speaks barely a word of English; however, her burgeoning vocabulary—accompanied by an exponential uptick in self-confidence—allows Ayckbourn to have fun with language. “Men-a-cing…Om-min-ous…Pre-dat-tory …” intones the unsuspecting Baba, practicing her vocab while babysitting on Kara’s behalf as Brad lurks nearby, a veritable wolf at his own door.
Rounding out the sextet are mayoress (“Mayor,” she insists) Alice (Elizabeth Boag), come up in the world since her chambermaid days, and her seemingly unsuitable, somewhat older “consort,” Derek, a toy-train enthusiast whom Russell Dixon plays as a twinkly troll. What binds these two together? It takes a while, but all will be revealed. The couples bounce off each other like charged particles, and if you think you know where the story’s going, you assuredly don’t.
Ayckbourn is as crack a director as he is a dab playwright, and the cast is top-notch—especially the heliotropic Hoskins, who starts out shadowy and subdued, only slowly finding her light.—Sandy MacDonald
59E59 (Off Broadway). Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hr 30mins. One intermission.