In addition to the American premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s 79th play, “Hero’s Welcome,” 59E59’s Brits Off Broadway season is presenting his 17th play, actually an evening of five loosely connected short plays, which, although enormously popular in England, has somehow never reached our shores. Five of the six actors from “Hero’s Welcome” are back, playing 22 roles.
In “Mother Figure,” Lucy (Elizabeth Boag) is a young mother whose rarely at home traveling salesman husband Harry has left her alone with her three small children so long that she has forgotten how to relate to adults. When her not-so-happily married neighbors Rosemary (Charlotte Harwood) and Terry (Stephen Billington) pop in unexpectedly, she treats them as misbehaving children with amusing results.
In “Drinking Companion,” we meet the pathetic Harry (Richard Stacey) haplessly trying to pick up an attractive young woman Paula (Harwood) and/or her friend Bernice (Boag) in a hotel bar attended by a fey waiter (Billington).
“Between Mouthfuls” takes us to the hotel restaurant where the same waiter (Billington) is serving two tables, each with an unhappily married couple. At one table we have Martin (Stacey), a workaholic careerist and Polly (Harwood), his neglected wife just back from a Mediterranean holiday. At the other table are Martin’s boss Mr. Pearce (Russell Dixon) and his wife (Boag) who suspects him of infidelity on his recent business trip. The gimmick is that we hear only what the waiter hears. As he moves away from either table, we no longer hear that couple’s conversation. The dinner turns out badly for both couples, but entertainingly for us.
After intermission we get “Gosforth’s Fete,” the hilarious tale of a small town fair during which everything that can go wrong does. Gosforth (Dixon), the local big wheel, is frantically struggling with arrangements. When their distinguished guest Mrs. Pearce (Boag), the town councillor arrives, he asks the rather dim vicar (Stacey) to show her around. The village spinster Milly (Harwood) who is serving tea for the event announces to Gosforth that she is pregnant with his child. Since the malfunctioning PA system has mysteriously sprung to life, her announcement is heard by all assembled including her scoutmaster fiance Stewart (Billington). More mayhem follows. The actors get ample opportunity to demonstrate their superb timing and talent for physical humor.
The final piece, “A Talk in the Park,” brings the evening to a melancholy close. Five lonely people play a game of musical chairs on four park benches, each one changing benches to escape an unwanted conversation only to drive the next benchmate to similarly distraction.
The first two plays run on a bit too long after making their point. The plays that precede and follow intermission are the most entertaining. For me the dry patches were more than compensated by the hilarious moments.
The creative team is the same as for “Hero’s Welcome.” For details, see that review (http://bobs-theater-blog.blogspot.com/2016/05/heros-welcome.html).
They announced a running time of two hours including intermission, but it actually ran 2 hours 25 minutes.