PIQUANT FARCE Think The Member of the Wedding sprinkled over Noises Off.
"Little pitchers have big ears," the saying goes. In My Wonderful Day, which is getting its Boston premiere from Zeitgeist Stage Company (at the BCA Plaza Black Box through March 26), the little pitcher also has a notebook in which she is inscribing the title essay. And what a day for it! Winnie Barnstairs, the sheltered eight-year-old fulcrum of Brit playwright Alan Ayckbourn's sweet-edged farce, has accompanied her very pregnant Anglo-Caribbean mom, Laverne, on a housecleaning job where the assignment is to dust and vacuum a veritable den of privileged iniquity. The master of the house, a low-rent television personality called Kevin, staggers blearily about in his bathrobe, wife Paula having decamped in the middle of the night, presumably because of his ongoing affair with voluptuous if hyperkinetic co-worker Tiffany. Kevin doesn't even know the cleaner's name, much less that she was expected — he's more interested in inviting over his mistress and his co-conspiratorial best friend, Josh. When Laverne is rushed off to the hospital in labor and Paula returns more furious than Bertha Rochester, Winnie finds herself the observant if unobserved eye of a hurricane of bad behavior by frantic, sexed-up adults whose childishness runs the gamut from baby talk to temper tantrums.
In other words, this is an Alan Ayckbourn play (the prolific septuagenarian has written more than 70 of them!), minus the geographical complications of The Norman Conquests and House & Garden but with a child witness who deserves to be in some kind of protection program. It's the contrast between the bookish Winnie's still sadness (her father ran off, leaving her mother with a bun in the oven and a dream of returning to her parents' native Martinique) and the selfish, concupiscent swirl around her that gives the play its layer of piquancy. It's as if TheMember of the Wedding had been sprinkled over Noises Off.
When Ayckbourn directed the premiere for the Scarborough (England) troupe that has debuted most of his works, an adult actress played Winnie. And that production was well received at New York's 2009 Brits Off Broadway festival. Zeitgeist honcho David J. Miller has been brave enough to cast a child — two of them, who alternate in the part. It's a challenging role complicated by the fact that, though Winnie doesn't say much, a lot of what she does utter is in French. (In preparation for the fantasized return to Martinique, she and her mom are practicing.) At the performance I saw, pert, calm Hyacinth Tauriac did a terrific job, conveying not just Winnie's reserve but also her skepticism and mounting apprehension. And though we can't take our eyes off her, the misconception that she speaks only French makes it all the easier for the play's adults to erase her from their tunnel vision.
Miller, who also designed the production, is hard put to suggest upper-class British opulence in the BCA basement, and he seems to have placed the kitchen both on stage and off. But he has built enough architectural complication into the set to support the physical farce. Moreover, the adult actors give one another a run for the money, with John Romualdi a bellowing, petulant Kevin and Becca A. Lewis rendering Tiffany an amusing mash-up of cutesiness and hysteria. As bent-over-backwards-pregnant Laverne, Obehi Janice exudes chatty warmth and maternal concern while deploying a credible Caribbean accent. Craig Houk is aptly ridiculous as the clueless Josh, who's capable of falling dead asleep, face buried in a sandwich, when read to from The Secret Garden. And Angela Smith's Paula, alternately berating and coddling Winnie, is a chicly avenging fury — as well as one more example for the child of how promises, like adulterers' heads, are meant to be broken.