Absurd Person Singular
Also see Fred's review of The Taster
Jane Hopcroft (Julia Coffee), dressed, beneath her apron, in an aqua and white party dress, is most assiduously scrubbing the floor of her all white kitchen somewhere in England, as the play begins. It's Christmas, 1973. She, anticipating guests, is a complete nervous wreck while her husband Sidney (Robert Petkoff) is a man looking to move upward both socially and professionally. A contractor, Sidney hopes for impeccably favorable proceedings as Ronald (Graeme Malcolm), a banker, comes upon the scene. Ron's wife, Marion (Henny Russell), impossibly arrogant and, really, fraudulent, too, loves to drink. Of course, everything goes all wrong! This comes as no surprise, but who really cares?
The second act, exactly one year later, transpires within the kitchen of Eva (Finnerty Steeves) and Geoff (Christopher Innvar). This is a recognizable 1970s room, as designed by talented Jo Winiarski (who creates three separate spaces as the play evolves) dominated by apricot colored walls. Finnerty Steeves, suicidal to the maximum, steals the scene from opening moment to second intermission break. Reminding this observer of Parker Posey as she has appeared in Christopher Guest films, Steeves is droll, clever, inventive, and deadpan poignant as she attempts to end her life. She attempts to leap, hang, overdosewhatever it takesall the time miming. Her husband Geoff is something of a dreary drip. Meanwhile, the family dog George (heard but not seen) terrorizes all comers just outside the door.
Finally, the production moves, for Christmas 1975, to the unbecoming green confines of the kitchen which is home to Ronald and Marion. Previously, Marion has been costumed as a stiff, snobby Britisher. Throughout the show, Sara Jean Tosetti's outfits are a perfect fit for the shenanigans and the performers who perpetrate. The year has brought change: witness drunken, floozy-like Marion, wearing a black negligee type garment designed to free her bosom. Time has brought results and, at this point, Sidney might have become something of a fiscal success. He and Jane arrive in party garb and this act features a silly, laugh-inducing game.
Ayckbourn is a star equal to the adept, well-tuned contingent of actors. Having written seventy-four plays, he has also been Artistic Director of a theater for decades. He has called himself "a director who writes, rather than a writer who directs." One of his finest attributes is attention to craft. If the idea of Absurd Person Singular might seem basic (three couples, three Christmases, three kitchens), the playwright is adroit with development and spin. Clearly, the farce factor is undeniable. Still, Ayckbourn understands the nuances of relationship, and his comedy is oftentimes filled with deeper meaning not to mention social implication. The second segment of the Barrington Stage offering mixes levity with a more meaningful theme. After all, Eva is depressed and she wishes to end her life.
Berger, directing, coaxes the actors to be detailed and specific. The production moves along with a rapid flow. The entire production might appear to be easily accomplished but, in actuality, it requires considerable individual and collective expertise.
Absurd Person Singular continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through August 29th. For ticket information, call (413) 236-8888 or visit Barringtonstageco.org.