Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hero's Welcome ***

The annual Brits Off Broadway season is back at 59E59 Theatre. The prodigiously prolific Alan Ayckbourn is represented by the U.S. premiere of his 79th play as well as an evening of older short plays which I will review next week.. One of the pleasures of an Ayckbourn season is becoming reacquainted with fine actors who have appeared in previous seasons. This year three actors who graced the 2014 season have returned. Richard Stacey plays Murray, an acclaimed military hero whose return to his home town after 17 years wreaks general havoc. Elizabeth Boag plays Alice, the town’s mayor, whom Murray jilted at the altar. Russell Dixon is her much older husband Derek, a model train fanatic. They are joined by two other stalwarts of the Stephen Joseph Theatre (SJT) of Scarborough, Ayckbourn’s artistic home — Charlotte Harwood doubling as Kara, the abused wife of Murray’s old friend Brad and as Simone, her daughter, and Evelyn Hoskins as Madrababacascabuna (Baba), the young war bride Murray has brought home. Stephen Billington, although an apparent newcomer to SJT, fits in seamlessly as the toxic Brad. Murray’s return is not welcomed by those he upset long ago; nor is his plan to remodel and reopen the pub once owned by his father but now the property of the town council and a candidate for demolition. Past events are explained more fully in a way that generates compassion for the characters. Designer Michael Holt’s set design, greatly assisted by Jason Taylor’s excellent lighting, delineates four distinct areas — a BBC studio, the living room of a mansion, a generic hotel room and a large kitchen with a model train running through it. The play is plot-heavy and would benefit from a bit of tightening. While it does not represent Ayckbourn at his best, it nevertheless offers much to enjoy. As is his custom, the playwright directed. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including intermission.

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