Off Broadway

Aisle Say On The Square: Ache Bourne

Aisle Say On The Square: Ache Bourne

 

The centerpiece—more appropriately, centre-piece—of 59E59’s annual Brits Off-Broadway festival is the mainstage importation of two plays, running in repertory, by a mainstay contributor: the redoubtable Alan Ayckbourn, who also directed; both plays featuring the same cast but one.

The first of the two, a very new work (2015), may seem like something of a departure, to those who only know his comedies; for while Hero’s Welcome indeed explores the themes of suburban angst that count for the majority of his work, it takes a somewhat more serious tack. It’s about the effect upon a community when a nationally hailed military hero (Richard Stacey), who rescued a building full of children in a war torn outpost, returns to his home town, with his young bride (Evelyn Hoskins, appearing only in this play), to settle down and start a business—amongst a number of people for whom the consequences of his having left in the first place are unfinished business (Elizabeth Boag, Charlotte Harwood, Russel Dixon and Stephen Billington). The play is always poised on the edge of soap opera, and in fact, if the tone were any heavier, it would be out and out melodrama; but because Ayckbourn favors wry irony over histrionics, the story proceeds with a deceptive low-keyness.

The second play, really a series of tenuously, consecutively connected comic playlets, comes under the umbrella title Confusions. This is a much older work, having debuted in the UK in 1974. There has been no updating, in many ways it’s rooted to its period, and each of its component parts seem mild; Aycknourn lite, not only of length, but of substance. Such as the one about a disciplinarian new mother, who can turn the misbehaving neighbor couple into contrite children just by refusing to give in to their tantrums and withholding what they want until they cooperate; or the one about the local political rally gone wrong, due to private things said over a misbehaving mic, thought to be off, that inconveniently goes live. And etcetera. As a diversion, Confusions is certainly nobody’s disgrace; it’s handled with aplomb and expertise. But it’s hardly Mr. Ayckbourn’s finest hour.

If you want both the silly and sober sides of Ayckbourn, the pair of plays, and the fun of seeing the cast’s versatility navigating both, make for a decent and worthwhile contrast. If, however, you want simply the best Ayckbourn experience of the two for your buck, it’s Hero’s Welcome by a mile.

Off Broadway

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

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