Regional Reviews: San Diego
Life of Riley
The title character of The Norman Conquests is a cad who can't keep his hands off any of the women within reach. The same is true for the title character in Life of Riley, George. The women within reach are Monica (Nisi Sturgis), his departed but not-yet-divorced wife who lives with and is considering marriage to Simeon, a farmer (David Bishins); Kathryn and Tamsin (Henny Russell and Dana Green), who are in George's social circle though married to other men (Colin, played by Colin McPhillamy, and Jack, played by Ray Chambers); and even Tilly (Rebecca Gold), Tamsin's about-to-turn-16 daughter. The catch is that, while Norman spent much of its time observing the behavior of its title character, Riley's title character is much discussed by the others but never makes an actual appearance (though, he is said to be just off-stage on a number of occasions).
Which leaves Sir Alan with a collection of three boring British couples who seem to be at pains to keep up appearances at all costs. The women are more interesting than the men (as was the case in Norman), but in all honesty they are not terribly more interesting. The laughs, and there are many one-liners that range, in audience reaction, from mild titter to medium belly-laugh, come mainly from recognition of humor to be found in the daily tug and pull of long-term live-in relationships. But Norman, which also found humor in the same tug and pull, was quite a bit more manic and a yard funnier.
All of this carping about Life of Riley as a play does not apply to the production, however. Director Richard Seer has headed the Old Globe's professional actor training program for many years, and he is an actor's director. Taking advantage of the White's intimate in-the-round space, Robert Morgan's just-right scenic design and costumes, Chris Rynne's area-defining lighting design, and Paul Peterson's clever sound effects, he's fashioned an intimate comedy where the action is full of nuance and every nuance matters. The cast responds almost with glee in recreating a zeitgeist where the stiff upper lip prevails, except when it turns to a sneer or explodes in a scowl. It's a lovely confluence of technical prowess and ensemble skill that almost makes up for the weaknesses in the script. Almost.
Life of Riley runs through June 5 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe's campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($29-67) available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE
The Old Globe presents Life of Riley, by Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by Richard Seer, with scenic and costume design by Robert Morgan, lighting design by Chris Rynne, sound design by Paul Peterson, dialect coaching by Jan Gist, casting by Samantha Barrie, CSA, and stage management by Elizabeth Stephens.
With David Bishins (Simeon), Ray Chambers (Jack), Rebecca Gold (Tilly), Dana Green (Tamsin), Colin McPhillamy (Colin), Henny Russell (Kathryn) and Nisi Sturgis (Monica).
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