Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Travels with My Aunt

West End Productions
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's review of Hype Man: a break beat play and Rob's review of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

Tim MacAlpine, Kenneth Ansloan,
Colleen Neary McClure, and Harry Zimmerman

Photo by Russell Maynor
In 1897, psychologist George Stratton created goggles that turned everything he saw upside-down. He wore the goggles to see if the brain would reassemble the input into something coherent. Sure enough, after a few confusing days, the brain had corrected the input and the world no longer looked upside-down.

Watching Travels with My Aunt, Giles Havergal's 1989 adaptation of Graham Greene's 1969 novel, is similar to Stratton's disorienting experiment. At West End Productions, there are four actors on stage, all initially dressed in similar black outfits with black umbrellas. Over the course of the story, the four actors play more than 20 characters. One of the actors is a woman (Colleen Neary McClure), but she doesn't play a woman. The main female character, Aunt Augusta, is played by a man (Kenneth Ansloan). All four characters at various times play the point-of-view character, Henry Pulling. In one scene, three actors play Henry simultaneously.

While it would seem as though that can't possibly make sense, the brain adjusts to the distorted input (as with Stratton's goggles), and within a few dozen minutes, the story is perfect intelligible. I haven't read Greene's novel, but when compared with Havergal's creative swapping of roles and switching of characters, the book may be relatively boring.

Or maybe not. The plot on its own merits is engaging. Henry Pulling is recently retired from a banking career. At his mother's funeral, he meets his Aunt Augusta. He becomes enchanted with Augusta and follows her through Europe, on the Orient Express to Istanbul, and eventually to South America where he decides to settle. Along the way, he comes face to face with disturbing international crime and even more disturbing family secrets.

While the first act shows all four actors in black, in the second act, they're all in light bright South American garb, complete with Panama hats. Again, all dressed alike. As multiple actors play Henry, what we're getting is one actor playing Henry in present time, another speaking his thoughts, and yet another telling his history. The play doesn't strain too hard to make sure we understand what exactly is going on. It naturally begins to make sense as we take in the story.

Ansloan is convincing as Aunt Augusta without camping it up. At one point (maybe two) he plays one of Henry's voices, but he quickly returns to Augusta. The other three actors, Tim MacAlpine, Harry Zimmerman, and McClure, play a wide range of characters, from Augusta's love interests—which are quite robust given that she's 75 years old—to a CIA agent and his daughter who are worlds apart, both geographically and culturally. She's a flower child, while he's, well, a CIA agent.

The beauty of this production is in the interplay among the varied characters mixed up with all of the actors. It begins as a puzzle, but with time it becomes intelligible and fun, like watching one of those marble contraptions where the marble knocks one thing that sets off another thing until it all comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Co-directors Cy and Jane Hoffman make the whole spectacle seem effortless. The set and props by Susan Starnes and Katie Hassi, respectively, are simple but effective, as is the lighting by Riley Lewis. One standout on stage is the slideshow assembled by Cy Hoffman. The slides help keep us oriented to the geographic location of the action as Henry and Augusta travel the world. The actors are a treat to watch. This is a well-experienced ensemble. They make the shifting points of view across the 20 characters seem natural and unstrained. This lively and creative production unfolds into a complicated mosaic that coalesces into a lovely story picture.

West End Productions' Travels with My Aunt, through March 17, 2019, at VSA North Fourth Art Center, 4904 4th St. NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. General admission is $22. Discounted admission is $20 for ATG members, students, and seniors (62+). Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 410-8524.