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INTIMATE EXCHANGES
by Alan Ayckbourn

Stage West

Directed/Set Design/Co-Costume Design by Jim Covault
Scenic Painting - Jon R. Kruse, Justin Rhoads
Lighting Design - Michael O'Brien
Co-Costume Design/Stage Manager - Peggy Kruger-O'Brien


CAST

Ashley Wood - (Miles, Toby, Lionel)
Shannon McGrann - (Celia, Sylvie, Josephine)






Reviewed Performance 5/7/2011

Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Alan Ayckbourn is one of the most, if not the most prolific British playwright today. With more than 75 full length titles to his name, it would seem that sooner or later the well would run dry, but he continues to churn out popular, clever door slammers full of audience delighting twists and turns. Stage West is no stranger to Ayckbourn, frequently producing his titles with success. Intimate Exchanges is a smart offering of an ambitious project of Ayckbourn's.

Intimate Exchanges, in brief, is much like the film Sliding Doors, in that a choice made by a character leads to different outcomes. In the film, Gwyneth Paltrow's character either catches or misses a train, and the results of that choice lead to very different conclusions. Or, one could recall the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels, in which the audience makes the choice of which story to follow.

It is accurate to describe Intimate Exchanges as an epic work. A cast of two, one man, and one woman, portray several characters in quick change succession (though in scenes much longer and more developed than other quick change shows like the Tuna series). They are parents, neighbors, children, friends, etc. The stories intertwine in complex and intriguing ways, as the entire piece starts with one opening scene that leads to 16 possible endings. Each scene ends with a character making a choice that narrows the possible options down.

An ambitious and successful piece, the entire series has only been performed twice in its entirety. After all, there are eight full plays, each with two possible endings. The amount of commitment on the part of the actors to learn all the various options is quite impressive, and obviously what makes it rare to produce. While the description here is rather brief, Ayckbourn's website offers a visual reference that readers may find helpful.

The link is here:

http://intimateexchanges.alanayckbourn.net/IE_Structure.htm

Stage West has selected two of the eight pieces, A Game of Golf, and A One Man Protest as their excerpts from the larger work. The pieces are running at various times, so be sure to catch the one desired, and yes, it is possible to see both. Both pieces are also being presented with both of their endings, so be ready for the last scene to rewind and repeat with an alternate ending. All in all, it is a fun project that is smartly executed. (This review only covers A One Man Protest)

Plot wise, without giving away too much, Toby is the headmaster at a local school at which Miles is on the Board. Due to Toby's recent poor performance at work, Miles is in the position of either helping his friend keep his job, or giving him the boot. When getting advice from Toby's wife, secrets are revealed and things get more complicated.

Ashley Wood plays the male roles Lionel, Toby, and Miles. Wood has a great deal more to chew on in this script than his last outing with This at Stage West. This piece allows him the ability to showcase all the trademarks of a great performer ? creating multiple believable characters that have distinctive physical and vocal distinctions. Miles is appropriately conservative, formal, and nervous. Toby is alternately frumpy, lumpy, and emotional. Lionel, a challenge as he is the "youngest" for Wood, is mischievous, energetic, and flirty.

Shannon McGrann plays the female roles Celia, Sylvie, and Rowena. Celia is the stable woman, though unhappy with her prospects, still grounded in the needs of her family. The teen Sylvie is sassy, smirky, and smart. Rowena is the wild woman, always on the search for something exciting. McGrann excels at her creations as well, particularly in the regional dialects she employs for the various ladies.

For both performers, the script requires offstage quick-changes, sometimes with multiple vocal works between characters. To execute the changes and return with a completely different personae and energy is not easy. McGrann and Wood both succeed with work that shows both subtle intricacies as well as fully developed, motivated people. Both of them are quite good, and succeed at driving the talky piece along and keeping audience interest.

A One Man Protest is not an action packed piece, with the wit and humor in the dialogue. Most scenes are stand/sit talking pieces in which the characters confess things to each other. Interestingly enough, the most intimate exchanges are between the audience and when one character is alone on stage. While at times the piece may feel slow, it is to develop the multiple characters, relationships, and storylines. Once that foundation is laid, the piece picks up as all the pieces are now in play. It is worth the payoff to see each character have their arc, especially with alternate endings.

Jim Covault succeeds in pushing the piece along as quickly as possible. The storytelling is clear and the staging is as animated as the script allows without turning into melodrama. Realistic and humorous, he has a true sense of British pacing and dialogue from all over the UK and has clearly worked hard with his cast to make those distinctions real. The characters, while at times doing silly things, stay just shy of sitcom silliness, an appropriate tone that works well for the larger issues with which each character ultimately struggles. If anything, having two endings makes the piece lack a clear final moment. At the end of the first one, the cast hurries off to change again, which does not give the audience time to realize what has happened; a rushed moment that could be savored more.

Covault's costume choices, along with co-designer Peggy Kruger-O'Brien, are fun and really empower the cast to transform not only personalities, but body types. Some outfits are form fitting, while others seemingly add pounds without being obviously padded. Perhaps the cast is just that adept at altering their physical self. Either way, clearly good planning and actor friendly choices were made. The colors, wigs, and even wrinkles are all helpful in creating the very different folks seen on stage.

Also being the set designer, Covault's set clearly fits the needs of both shows, as the multi level set works as a garden or a golf course. A small shed comes on and off stage right, with a wall that lowers down to reveal the inside for a few scenes. Simple, but creatively painted, decorated with astro-turf in places, a very textured appearance gives a great deal of depth.

Michael O'Brien's lights are basic and effective in the area isolation needed. With one plot hanging for two productions, he succeeds in keeping things simple and clear. A rainstorm effect is particularly nice.

Stage West has an intriguing piece on their hands, with an able cast, and solid production values. Intimate Exchanges is worth the trip and, for a fun time, be sure to have dinner before the show in their caf?.




INTIMATE EXCHANGES
Stage West, 821 W. Vickery, Fort Worth, Texas 76104

Intimate Exchanges will run through May 29th

Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 3:00 pm
For tickets and information, call 817-784-9378 or go to http://www.stagewest.org