Living Together is no Table Manners

Less funny
By ED SIEGEL  |  June 24, 2011

Alan Ayckbourn's Table Manners
COMIC DYSFUNCTION Steven Barkhimer, Sarah Newhouse, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Snee, and Barlow Adamson pursue elusive hilarity in the second of Alan Ayckbourn’s "Norman Conquests" trilogy.

Alan Ayckbourn's merry bunch of British squabblers have reunited for another pre-summer vacation at that North Shore theatrical haven, the Gloucester Stage Company. This is something many of us who witnessed their shenanigans, sexual and otherwise, were hoping for after their remarkable work last season on one part of his early-'70s "Norman Conquests" trilogy, Table Manners. This year it's another in the series, Living Together (through June 26), with the cast and production team intact.

Be careful what you wish for. This isn't nearly the conquest of the first piece of the puzzle, though "first" is a bit misleading. The three plays take place on the same weekend in different parts of the family house in the country, but are meant to be seen in any order and, according to Ayckbourn, can all stand alone.

That's what he says, anyway. As the action shifts from the Table Manners dining room to the Living Together living room, there's a decidedly half-baked atmosphere to the proceedings. The story is the same. Norman, a lothario librarian, has arrived at the fading family country house (another excellent design by Jenna McFarland Lord) with the intention of whisking away his sister-in-law, Annie, for a weekend affair. She changes her mind; her sort-of boyfriend bumbles about; her brother, Reg, arrives with his wife; Norman's wife pops up; hilarity ensues, and — in the opinion of Ayckbourn's champions — something more profound follows on hilarity's heels.

Except nothing much ensues in Living Together. There's the more than occasional good line, an okay bit of physical humor here or there, but nobody seems to have much of anything to say that they didn't say better — and certainly funnier — in Table Manners. Since the material isn't as good, the actors don't have nearly as lively a time as they did last summer, though perhaps that's improved since the preview I saw.

There is one actor who picked up where he left off last year — Richard Snee, whose accent, double takes, pregnant pauses, and every other comedic virtue are just as sharp as they had been. As Annie's brother, Reg, Snee is the good-natured victim of his wife's (Lindsay Crouse) prim pronouncements and Norman's (Steve Barkhimer) witty one-upsmanship. Reg is the ineffectual peacemaker in the family and tries to keep things together with Annie (Sarah Newhouse) and her shy pursuer (Barlow Adamson), as well as with Norman and his wife (Jennie Israel).

He also knows there's more going on than meets his eye — circumstantially and philosophically — but seems to realize that sweeping things under the rug might not always be such a bad idea. He's nothing if not practical. When Norman wonders what the best way of killing himself is, Reg tells him not to get married. It's long and messy. For all his practicality, he also has an eccentric streak — he's invented a game, "Monopolice," which even he can't figure out how to play.

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