SEASONS GREETINGSby Alan Ayckbourn
ONSTAGE in Bedford
Director - Alex Wade
Stage Managers - Kristy Scroggins, Ili Quiroz
Set Designer - Charlotte Newman
Lighting Designer - Madeleine Lynch
Costume Designer - Katherine Anthony
Sound Designer - Alex Wade
Properties Masters - Alex Wade, Kristy Scroggins, Ili Quiroz
Neville - Alex Krus
Belinda - Kristin West
Phyllis - Janette Oswald
Harvey - Van Quattro
Bernard - Ken Orman
Rachel - Liz Woodcock
Eddie - Richard Powers
Pattie - Katherine Anthony
Clive - Keith LaCour
Reviewed Performance: 12/9/2011
Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Like the 1980's nostalgic reunion film "The Big Chill", adults gather together over a period of several days, in this case Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after, and attempt to connect to one another or at least survive each other's presence. We witness laughing, game-playing, boozing, spilled secrets, failed attempts of adultery and a puppet show.
The character's connection to one another goes something like this: Neville and Belinda are hosting the festivities and their marriage is on the rocks Neville's job as a retailer keeps him from home a lot and Belinda is sexually frustrated. Neville spends his free time fixing electronics and drinking with his unemployed friend, Eddie. Eddie's wife, Pattie, another neglected woman, is expecting their second child and neither are particularly thrilled about having it. Phyllis is Neville's sister and an alcoholic. She is looked after by Bernard, her husband, a doctor and pushover who is obsessed with his annual puppet show for the children. They have no children of their own. Harvey is brother to Phyllis and Neville, a retired military man and a TV couch potato whose favorite topic of scrutiny is Bernard. Rachel, Belinda's sister, is unlucky in love with her new boyfriend Clive, a writer, who unwittingly charms both Phyllis and Belinda.
These scenarios are meant to be cringe-inducing and this production succeeds; however, I measure any comedy's success by how much I laugh. I laughed out-loud sometimes, laughed big three times, chuckled throughout and smiled on occasion. When I wasn't laughing, I was soaking in the quirky dynamics of the assorted blend of individuals, or feeling sympathy for the hidden subtleties of certain characters' inner conflict.
That is typical of an Ayckbourn scripted production. He is a master of fusing farce and straight comedy with forays into poignant slices of life, either tragic or poetic, along the way. Such eclecticism is a tricky balance for any cast. Alex Wade, the director, orchestrates this lunacy to manifest naturally, and never allows the comedy to feel forced. That being the case, as written, this comedy keeps the audience at a distance and although I walked in knowing that the characters may behave in unlikable ways, I was not expecting that many of the characters would also be so unlikable.
Still, there are many moments and relationships that work in this production. Alex Krus and Richard Powers, play Neville and Eddie, respectively. They inhabit their scenes together with a sense of authenticity that allows one to appreciate their casual affection for each other as friends.
Kristin West has many bright spots as Belinda, most particularly when she unleashes her angst diatribe about her husband for not properly polishing and putting away the silverware. She and Keith LaCour, as Clive, perhaps share the funniest moment of the entire play. Without giving anything away, I will say that a remote control, a children's toy, and Christmas tree are utilized as great cameos.
Mr. LaCour seemingly has the most difficult part. He must play the role of the straight man to Belinda and Phyllis, played by Janette Oswald, both of whom fawn and flirt for him over long, extended scenes. Ms. Oswald is perfectly cast as the boozy lush and could have gone off the rails rather quickly with her high energy if it not for Mr. LaCour's fitting contrast to level the scene with his unassuming and dead-pan manner. It is here that he delivers the funniest line of the play and I will not reveal it here.
The actors are required to speak with British accents of various dialects. Almost all the actors are successful in varying degrees, but Van Quattro is all over the place as Harvey; however, his misguided attempts at a British accent does not hinder my enjoyment of his performance as his comedic timing would be spot-on with any accent.
The best accent of the cast belongs to Ken Orman as Bernard. It is elastic to his natural rhythms and very consistent. Mr. Orman plays the most likable character of the cast. His character is too polite to speak of his wife's alcoholism. An aside early in Act I reveal an unspoken bitterness towards her because they do not have children, so it is no surprise that he is so obsessed with his puppet show. His character is the most fascinating to watch and observe, and the inevitable puppet show is creepily funny and oddly sweet.
I've seen seven shows in the last three weeks and all of them utilized a bare stage in some form or fashion, so it was nice to see a theatre use a standard interior set, designed by Charlotte Newman. There are three properties masters for this show, Alex Wade, Kristy Scroggins, and Ili Quiroz. The set is decorated with a bare minimum of Christmas decorations. As suggested by the dialogue and the Belinda character, this seems out of place. Belinda's character is the power mom of the holidays, mainly to satisfy needs that she is not receiving from her husband that one would expect to see the house fully decked out to comical proportions.
I believe that the cast, crew and technicians, under the direction of Mr. Wade create a production that is worthy of Alan Ayckbourn's intentions. It is easy to enjoy many things about this production because it is so well made; however, I left the theatre a bit frustrated that Ayckbourn's script, no matter how funny (and I emphasize that if you are looking for a comedy, you will not be disappointed), does not give the audience a reason to like many of these characters. That, I guess, is why they say there is truth in comedy and sometimes, unfortunately, the truth hurts.
ONSTAGE in Bedford, 2819 Forest Ridge Drive, Bedford, TX 76021
Runs through December 18th
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, students, and Bedford residents, $10 EA for groups of 10 or more.
For tickets call 817-354-6444 or purchase online at www.onstageinbedford.com