Regional Reviews: New Jersey
My Wonderful Day: A Nine Year Old Observes
Also see Bob's review of Are You There, McPhee?
Early one Tuesday morning, Laverne Barnstairs arrives for her housekeeping job at Kevin and Paula Tate's North London house with her quiet, introverted daughter Winnie in tow. Claiming a sore throat, but actually out of concern for her very pregnant mother, Winnie earlier had convinced Laverne that she couldn't go to school. Laverne reminds the obedient Winnie that, as on all Tuesdays, she is only to speak in French (Laverne dreams of returning with her children to her family home in Martinique). Winnie is also to do her school homework, which is to write an essay titled "My Wonderful Day" and to base it on today's unusual visit to the Tate house.
The Tate house is a bit of a nightmare circus. Paula, who usually is there for Laverne's arrival, has left for parts unknown after a bitter fight with Kevin. Paula has discovered that Kevin, a television personality and entrepreneur who makes promotional videos, is boffing his young secretary Tiffany. Tiffany telephones and the hungover Kevin invites her over. Soon, the bubbly, but vapid and inappropriate, Tiffany arrives and is taken with Winnie. Laverne tells Tiffany that her husband "is gone." "Was he very young?" "No, but the girl that he went off with was." Tiffany has her own sad tale. "I went to boarding school. Your parents say that they love you, but still send you away."
Tiffany plays a promotional video that Kevin has made for FantaCity, a real estate development. In the middle of the video, there is an insert of Paula in which she excoriates Kevin, declaring that he and Tiffany are having intercourse (in a far funnier and more vulgar manner than herein related).
Soon, Josh, Kevin's friend and associate, arrives from Kevin's office to report that Paula has corrupted all of the FantaCity videos. The unhappy and immature (actually, all of the adults here are that) Josh thinks that Winnie cannot speak English and reveals his maudlin relationship situation to her. He eventually will try to steal Winnie's sweet snack.
Matters are about to spin out of control, and several hairpin comic turns lie ahead which include some near nudity in a physically intricate and hilarious bit of farce. For Ayckbourn, who is never out of control, this is the big comic climax to which he has been building.
There is a final scene in which Winnie reads her essay on "My Wonderful Day" to her mother. We hear a tiny portion of it, and primarily observe Willie and Laverne's reactions. While this may not fulfill expectations, the scene is delightfully performed and plays extremely well.
As in its original Scarborough production (at Ayckbourn's "home" theatre in England), which transferred to New York's 59 East 59th Street, Winnie is played by an adult actress. Susan Heyward scrupulously gives no indication in any aspect of her performance of being anything other than an elementary school girl. She conveys an openness and wide eyed, but not unaware, innocence that is moving and appealing. The still centerpiece around whom My Wonderful Day spins, Ayckbourn has maximized the effectiveness of the role by making it clear that her own family situation is forcing Winnie to mature earlier than should be required of any child.
Kimberly Hébert Gregory conveys the simple goodness of a Laverne who is more naïve about the precariousness of her situation than her own nine-year-old daughter. Marc Vietor is a properly frazzled and self important Kevin Tate. Kevin Isola shows a deft comic touch as Josh.
Alison Cimmet (Tiffany) and Danielle Skraastad (Paula) shine in the showiest comic roles. Cimmet manages to be simultaneously daft and sincere. Her nervous movements, high pitched voice and effortlessly delivered fractured French are most welcome. Skraastad bursts on the scene like gangbusters and noticeably raises the level of hilarity as the take no prisoners, histrionic wife (I think that Paula, who has a BAFTA, may be an actress). This performance appears to be what Ayckbourn had in mind.
Cameron Anderson has designed a nicely playable, stylish and stylized, airy and modern house. He has effectively combined the on-stage rooms of the house into a single expansive set. Along with director Nicholas Martin and composer Mark Bennett, Anderson has achieved a delightful and adroit scenic transition to the locale of the final scene.
Nicholas Martin has directed with attention to both the comedic and rueful sides of Alan Ayckbourn's seventy-third play. It seems that the one act, My Wonderful Day, which came in at under ninety-five minutes on opening night, has been directed by Martin at a faster pace than it was in its original Ayckbourn-directed production.
My Wonderful Day is a most pleasing entertainment. While it cannot match the complexity, intensity, and sustained hilarity of Ayckbourn's major successes, it adds an acceptance that likely reflects Ayckbourn's state of mind in 2009 as a seventy-year-old lion in winter. That this Ayckbourn is available to us is something special for theater lovers to treasure and enjoy.
My Wonderful Day continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday 7 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Wednesday 1 pm; Saturday, Sunday 3 pm; Student Mats: Thurs. 10 AM) through June 3, 2012, at the Two River Theatre Company, Joan and Robert Rechnitz Theatre, 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank 07701; Box Office: 732-345-1400 / online: www.trtc.org.
My Wonderful Day by Alan Ayckbourn; directed by Nicholas Martin