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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Taking Steps
By Macey Levin

There's a lot of money in buckets!— Roland
taking steps
Claire Brownell as Elizabeth and Carson Elrod as Tristam (Photo: Daniel Rader)
Having written more than seventy plays, Alan Ayckbourn is one of the western theater's most prolific playwrights. The vast majority of his works are farcical and may, or may not, be autobiographical. It is hoped that Taking Steps, currently at Barrington Stage's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, is not. Not that it would be a problem if it were about him, but this particular production does not do his artistry justice.

The play takes place in a large, old house that had in the past been a brothel in which one of the "residents" had been murdered. Her ghost apparently reappears occasionally to spend an evening with a gentleman who winds up dead.

Roland (Richard Hollis), a wealthy bucket manufacturer, is planning to buy the house for his recent bride Elizabeth (Claire Brownell), but she is preparing to leave him to reclaim her freedom. Tristram (Carson Elrod), Roland's solicitor, arrives for the closing with the owner's representative Leslie (Matthew Greer.) Meanwhile, Mark (Luke Smith), Elizabeth's brother arrives with his fiancee Kitty (Helen Cespedes) who some time ago had jilted him on their wedding day. If this sounds convoluted, it is.

The set is the object of the title. The various rooms in the house, as described in the stage directions, are all on one level of the stage though this is a multi-floored residence. The actors pantomime ascending and descending the several staircases. All of this is very Ayckbourn-ish.

This is an over-the-top play that is epitomized by madcap action bordering on physical mayhem. Doors should be slamming, characters should be running amok, timing should be split-second delivery. In other words, farce. This production isn't.

The actors work hard to bring Ayckbourn's vision to life, but they seem to have been somewhat restrained by director Sam Buntrock. The play is not performed as heavily as a drama, but the energy required of an Ayckbourn piece is absent; some of the dialogue is delivered in too measured a manner. Where the action should be hyper-kinetic to keep the audience involved and virtually breathless, it is too slowly paced in comparison to what the dramatic/comedic situation requires.

As for the actors, a standout is Carson Elrod's Tristram who is a somewhat klutzy, almost incompetent lawyer. His facial reactions and looks of bewilderment come close to what a farce requires.

Elizabeth, played by Claire Brownell, has taken ballet lessons for years; she is comic as she leaps about the room demonstrating her ineptness as a performer. Smith, Hollis, Greer and Cespedes perform well enough despite the restrictive staging. Several of the actors, however, were sometimes difficult to understand as they spoke rather rapidly in their English accents.

The stage-level set by Jason Sherwood is effective in that it defines playing spaces for the several rooms in the house, also delineated by David Weiner's lighting design; but hovering many feet above the full expanse of the stage is a huge mock set of doors, hallways and steps at a highly aggravated angle that draws your attention away from the stage. Why is it there? Jennifer Caprio's costumes help to identify the personalities of the various characters.

There are some sporadic comic moments, but they produce mere titters of laughter rather than the guffaws inherent in this style of comedy.

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Taking Steps by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Sam Buntrock
Cast: Claire Brownell (Elizabeth) Luke Smith (Mark) Carson Elrod (Tristram) Richard Hollis (Roland) Matthew Greer (Lesle Bainbridge) Helen Cespedes (Kitty)
Scene design: Jason Sherwood
Costume design: Jennifer Caprio
Lighting design: David Weiner
Sound design: Joel Abbott
Hair and Wig Design: J. Jared James
Stage Manager: Leslie Sears
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes; 1 intermission
Barrington Stage Company Boyd-Quinson Main Stage, Union St., Pittsfield,, MA
From 7/20/17; opening 7/23/17; closing 8/5/17
Reviewed by Macey Levin at July 25 performance

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