Sir Alan Ayckbourn has written more than 70 plays, most of which turn on an intricate trick of chronology or geography. The less impressive gimmick in his 2010 Life of Riley is that the titular character never appears. Instead, as Riley shuffles off this mortal coil in the wings, we are privy to his effects, past and present, on the lives and relationships of the folks on stage, mostly middle-aged middle-class English suburbanites who have been his foible-ridden friends, lovers and companions in amateur theatrics. Well, that sounds like a typically rueful Alan Ayckbourn comedy all right, but this one is a bit yesterday’s adultery — and made uncomfortable by the revelation that the soon-to-be-lamented Riley, eulogized as “a joyful man in a joyless world,” is, in fact, a total cad. David J. Miller’s staging for Zeitgeist Stage Company is lively, but hampered by performances somewhat overworked (though Angela Smith’s Monica is beautifully modulated). Zeitgeist has had myriad success with Ayckbourn’s lesser-known later works, but sometimes it’s best to quit when you’re ahead.
LIFE OF RILEY :: BCA Plaza Black Box, 539 Tremont St, Boston :: Through March 2 :: $20-$30::617.933.8600 or bostontheatrescene.com
, Zeitgeist Stage Company