Time of My Life

Also see Ann's review of Shooting Star

Tom Beckett, Paxton Whitehead and Ann McDonough
Alan Ayckbourn often likes to play with time and with triples. He does both in Time of My Life. Following the Stratton family, at three different tables in the same restaurant in different time periods, Ayckbourn presents, in his expert way, both comic and sad times in their lives. In some ways like a farce in slow motion, the Pittsburgh Public Theatre production is well directed by John Tillinger, no stranger to the works of the playwright.

Laura Stratton (Ann McDonough) is turning 54. Her husband Gerry (Paxton Whitehead) gathers together their two sons, Glyn (Tim McGeever) and Adam (Jeffrey Withers), along with Glyn's wife Stephanie (Leah Curney) and Adam's fiancee Maureen (Sarah Manton). The location is a restaurant of unknown ethnicity (or "Ayckbourn ethnicity"), Essa de Calvi. After the initial scene, which introduces the cast, their personalities and their conflicts, scenes alternate from the birthday dinner to earlier and later moments in time. When the spotlight shifts to the table stage right, we follow (going backward in time) Adam and Maureen; when the table at stage left is the focus, we see (going forward in time) what happens in the days and months after the birthday dinner, through meetings with Glyn and Stephanie. The time shifts are very clear and add to the intrigue of revealing details of the relationships of the characters. The restaurant owner and his staff of waiters are all played by Tom Beckett, quick change-style, in a variety of outfits, wigs and padding.

It's a game and professional ensemble, well cast and quickly settling into their roles comfortably. Our interest is grabbed immediately and, though the family presents no problems that are really out of the ordinary (the fiancee is not good enough for the favorite son; one couple's marriage is in trouble and the mousy wife eventually blooms with her freedom; someone has been hiding a romantic secret for a long time), the playwright provides interesting and likeable characters, and enough comedy and variation in perspective to make it all very involving. A good amount of the comedy is provided by Beckett's assortment of characters, their elusive accents, the exotic-sounding (because they don't relate precisely to anything we can quite put our finger on) dishes and ingredients served.

You couldn't ask for a better Ayckbourn pater than Paxton Whitehead. He's simply perfect in the role, with his basso voice (his deferential "Welllll ..." a funny running joke) and authoritative but warm persona. He is well matched by McDonough as the true head of the family, with a strong opinion about everything and not afraid to say so. McGeever and Withers have the least to play with, as the sons (one a self-centered heel, the other a wayward mama's boy) are really foils for the women characters—and Curney and Manton each shine brightly as the two young women. Early on, Curney's Stephanie is deferential without being pitiful, and she subtly blossoms (to the audience's delight) as her marriage dissolves. And Manton creates an adorable, freer spirit fish out of water. Unfortunately, Beckett doesn't quite make enough of the challenging roles assigned to him; they are written funny, he looks funny, and he plays funny, but it should be hilarious, not just funny.

James Noone's set does its job: a restaurant decorated without being specific about its theme, including three playing spaces that are well placed and efficient for the O'Reilly's thrust stage. Costumes by Laurie Churba Kohn range from perfectly appropriate to character defining (Maureen).

Alan Ayckbourn is a Public favorite, and for good reason. Time of My Life is a cozy nugget of a play, presented skillfully by Tillinger and cast.

Time of My Life continues at the O'Reilly Theater through May 16. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.

Photo: Courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Theater

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-- Ann Miner

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