Archikulture Digest

Table Manners

Table Manners

By Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Dan Bright

Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando Fl</strong>

The Brits are much more relaxed about adultery, at least on stage. In America you might get shot or at least divorced, but in the Alan Ayckbourn’s world of “The Norman Conquests” it’s a crisis ranking at or just below the panic level of a bad pot of tea. Annie (Ame Livingston) lives in the country and takes care of and unseen “mother.” It’s her cross to bear; her brother Reg (Thom Mesrobian) and sister Ruth (Jamie Middleton) stay as far away as possible. But she’s signed up for a dirty weekend (best euphemism EVER!) with Ruth’s hubby Norman (Simon Needham). Not knowing who her date is, Reg and his wife Sarah (Heather Lea Charles) agree to come down hoping it’s the rather thick headed veterinarian Tom (Tommy Keesling). Tom is the nicest guy around just so long as telling a joke or any sort of quick thinking isn’t required. Just who is going to sleep where and with whom and on what schedule is the open question, and it’s just a hair harder to resolve than the Coke vs Pepsi wars.

For a 40 year old drawing room comedy, this show is surprisingly fresh. Adultery is the McGuffin; the real problem is the unhappy marriage of Reg and Sarah, the potential of an unhappy relation between Annie and Tom, and the done and gone fight over having children between Ruth and Norman. Mr. Needham (the only actual Brit on stage) provide the hysterically histrionic arguments as to why his actions are defensible, but his bitter wife Ruth (Jamie Middleton) sells them to us with the emotional distance of the queen on parade crossed with the intimate bloodletting of a ferret legging contest. After hearing them verbally trade rocket propelled grenades across the breakfast table you’ll agree to any terms if they end the violence. And remember kids: agree to the number of kids BEFORE you set up the wedding register. Feisty Annie and Tom actually look like a promising couple; the negative excitement of the country seems a perfect backdrop for them to brew parsnip and carrot wine and avoid the drudgery of naming their cat. And while Reg and Sarah aren’t exactly happy, they are the most salvable with Reg’s joviality in the face of insult and deprivation taking him far. Pay attention to the set changes, the guy cleaning up the spilt cereal is hoot.

This show is part of an Ayckbourn trilogy “The Norman Conquests”; in it Ayckbourn has carefully arranged this story into three scripts with each set in a different room. It would be fun to see them all together, but you’ll have to settle on this single sample point for now. If your’ already married, this is a pocket mirror of something your lived through, and if your single this is fair warning to what “Worse” means.

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