YOU’LL ALWAYS FIND THEM IN THE KITCHEN AT PARTIES Sullivan, Jr. and Kay.
Very strange. It's as though British playwright Alan Ayckbourn had come to Trinity Rep, studied its veteran acting company, laughed heartily at the amusing talent on display, then went home and wrote Absurd Person Singular for six of the actors.
Trinity Repertory Company's boisterous production of the 1974 Broadway hit, running through November 21, couldn't be better cast.
Of Ayckbourn's 74 full-length plays, this is his most successful as well as the most critically appreciated. Showing three British couples at three consecutive Christmas Eve parties thrown by each of them, it has the comic compaction of three one-act plays while developing our understanding of the half-dozen walking wounded into satisfying last-act payoffs.
All the action takes place not in the living room where the parties-proper are happening, but in the respective kitchens. We're privy to conversations where what's really going on is spoken about with blunt openness, sometimes listening in when they are at their least guarded and letting their masks of propriety slip. And everyone here has something to hide.
We are the invited, voyeuristic guests first of Sidney (Stephen Berenson), a contractor with ruthless business ambitions, and his wife Jane (Angela Brazil), a sweet, highly pressurized soul who takes solace in diligently doing housework. Then there is Geoffrey (Fred Sullivan, Jr.), an architect and self-described "sexual Flying Dutchman," and his wife Eva (Phyllis Kay), a pill-popping depressive not as okay with his dalliances as he'd like to think. Lastly, we're at the home of Ronald (Timothy Crowe), distinguished banker, and wife Marion (Anne Scurria), hypocritical charmer, snob, and raging alcoholic.
Much of the play's availability to American audiences comes from Ayckbourn's broad strokes in painting a picture of British class conflict. If we know nothing else about the English, we know about that and can readily convert the equation into terms of power status. In the opening act, host Sidney is a boorish sycophant seeking new shopping center investors. Geoffrey has to be polite because, as an architect, he's hoping for business. Ronald is polite because that's good form. Similarly, Marion effusive-ly admires the kitchen, though she later, out of the hostess' hearing, mocks its taste. As that hostess, Brazil is a whirlwind of hysterical hospitality, eventually locked out in the rain by her distracted husband.
Act Two belongs to Kay as suicidally depressed Eva, though she doesn't say a word until the end. Eva spends the time slumped at the table when she is not attempting suicide in her kitchen or being unintentionally prevented from doing so by oblivious visitors. Sticking her head in the oven prompts a chipper Jane to clean it, and losing pills down the sink gets Sidney's plumbing help. The main sight gag of the act has dignified banker Ronald shaken like a rag doll in semi-electrocution, having mistaken Jane's hanging attempt for trying to change a light bulb.
With the last act, am I a bad person for being driven to tears of laughter by the suffering of Scurria's blowsy, drowsy drunken Marion? She drags herself down the stairs like a sodden Pooh bear and collapses at her kitchen table, coming alive only at such moments as when she unwraps an inept Christmas present, a bottle of gin, from a beaming Sidney and Jane. Like Kay in the previous act, Scurria does much more with less than we have a right to ask of her.