A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
By Elyse Sommer
In a June 25th entry of Berkshires ETCETERA I wrote about the Old Castle Theatre Company which is slightly too far from my Berkshire beat to visit regularly. The entry which briefly reviewed a musical (Niteclub Confidential ) concluded: "If you have time for just one (Old Castle show), I'd recommend Alan Ayckbourn's Taking Steps since the company has built a reputation for doing wonderful productions of the English playwright's work". This past Saturday afternoon I decided to make time to follow my own advice. I'm glad I did. While I haven't seen Old Castle's previous Ayckbourn production, Taking Steps, certainly justified the company's reputation. It's a treat!
The play fits the genre of English Manor comedy-farce -- or, as the word-play inclined Ayckbourn might put it, it's a comedy about people not to the manor born. The farcical merry mixups unfurl in the course of one evening and during the rude awakenings of its morning after denouement.
The lord of Ayckbourn's leaky and creaky (and haunted?) Victorian manor is Roland Crabbe, (Lawrence Bull -- a surname uncannily descriptive of the actor's blustery character ). This Babbit-like business man who manufactures buckets (as in buckets of money) currently rents the 3-storied white elephant but has his pen poised to buy it from the builder, or rather his son, (Tim Foley). Roland, being a self-satisfied non-listener is oblivious to the fact that his wife Liz (Meegahan Holaway), an erstwhile go-go dancer with self-delusions about being an artiste, detests her life with him, especially in this house. In fact as soon as the lights go up we see her packing her suitcase and penning a Dear Roland farewell note.
The me-me-me sensibilities of Roland and Liz, as well as her brother Mark (Richard Howe) and the Yamaha-riding builder who's panting for a done deal cast a dark, hard-edged shadow over the laugh-a-minute farce. Trapped in the maelstrom of seeded by all the self-absorbed miscommunication are two naïfs -- the socially inept lawyer Tristam Watson (Dan Lundy) sent by his boss to oversee the house deal and Mark's errant fiancee Kitty (Lindday Dyett). In the end, it is these two who manage to navigate the steps that give the title its deeper meaning and explain Sir Alan's reputation as Great Britain's cleverest farceurs.
Of course, even the smartest comedy is only as good as its director and the quality of its performances. This is doubly true of a farce where facial nuances and timing are all-important. Happily, director Derek Campbell has taken all the right steps. To begin with he enlisted Kenneth Mooney to create a two-tiered set which brilliantly supports the hilariously confusing moves between the living room, master bedroom and attic of the house. If the painted-in steps leading from one level and from one room to another at first seem like a budget dictated alternative to real steps, it becomes quickly evident that those make-believe steps are a great boon to some of the most deftly comic bits of perfectly timed action and interaction. An unforgettably perfect example is a scene in which the three main men, dressed in matching blue and black satin pajamas, maneuver themselves along that passageway.
In a production so noteworthy for its ensemble excellence, it suffices to say that all six actors do outstanding work. Having just re-acquainted myself with Mrs. Malaprop in the Williamstown Theatre Festival's revival of The Rivals (see link) it should be noted, however, that both Dan Lundy as Watson and Lawrence Bull as Roland are worthy heirs to that lady's verbal fumblings (or, should I say tumblings?).
Jenny Fulton's costumes round out the assets that prompt me to urge all readers within driving distance of Bennington to take steps not to miss this Taking Steps. If you go, here are few consumer hints to enhance your enjoyment:
The theater is located in the Bennington Arts Center which usually features several exhibits (tickets entitle you to discounted entry fees ). The special art exhibitst are open only until 5 p.m. so if you're attending an evening performance, get there early and then pop out for dinner at one of the numerous eateries within a short distance from the Center. The current exhibit in the theater anteroom (always open and free) is a particular treat since it features Jayne Wexler's photos from her beautiful and moving book Daughters & Mothers. I bought two copies, one for me and one for my daughter -- it's that kind of book. Those of you who don't make it up there, will find both the fully illustrated large-sized, and a mini-sized, mini-priced abridged version at our Amazon book store (see link).
Other Ayckbourn Plays Reviewed at CurtainUp
The Things We Do For Love reviewed in London
Absent Friends (mini review)
Woman In Mind (BTF '97)
Look for our upcoming review of Communicating Doors, an Ayckbourn comedy thriller soon to open at the Off-Broadway Variety Arts. It stars Mary Louise Parker (the original Little Bit in Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive and David McCallum who recently distinguished himself in Nasty Little Secrets