Monday, June 12, 2017



As a fan of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, I was disappointed that the current Brits Off Broadway season at 59e59 Theaters does not include one of his plays. Not to worry. Instead, we have this impressive play by Torben Betts, an Ayckbourn acolyte who learned his lessons well. In this comedy of manners with strong sociopolitical overtones, we meet two memorable couples. Oliver (Alastair Whatley) and Emily (Emily Bowker) have recently moved to northern England from London. They rationalize that their move is to provide a better life for their children, but the truth is that they can no longer afford London since Oliver has lost his civil service writing job in the latest government belt-tightening. Abstract painter Emily, whose idea of a coffee table book is Das Kapital, claims she wants to live among the “real people.” They rent, because she does not believe in private ownership of property and they are not married, because she thinks it is a decadent institution. She is, to put it mildly, high-strung and overprotective, for reasons we will find out later, of their sleeping toddler, checking the monitor constantly. The ineffectual Oliver generally yields to her wishes. They decide to invite their next-door neighbors, Alan (a perfectly cast Graeme Brookes) and Dawn (the marvelous Elizabeth Boag, seen in New York in Ayckbourn’s Hero’s Welcome and Arrivals and Departures) over for tea. Postman Alan is an ordinary bloke whose only sin is that he is boring. Voluptuous Dawn married too soon and now regrets it. The awkward encounter between the privileged hosts and their down-to-earth guests is a monumental clash of class and culture. One example: when Alan goes on about watching football on TV, Emily counters that devotion to sports teams and watching TV makes people stupid. The hilarious first act leads to darker moments in the second act. Dawn, worried over the safety of her son on duty in the Iraq war, observes that the sons of the upper classes never have to serve. Alan muses on the difficulty of scraping together a living. We gain insight on why Emily is so dour. Oliver finally asserts himself. There are crises. The characters are extremely vividly drawn and their problems resonate for us. The actors are all strong, especially Graeme Brookes, whose take on Alan is worth the price of admission. The set and, particularly, the costumes by Victoria Spearing, assisted by Minglu Wang, are assets to the production. Director Stephen Darcy is not afraid to give each scene time to breathe. It’s a play that provides both lots of laughs and lots to think about. Running time: two hours 20 minutes including intermission.

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