In today’s Wall Street Journal I review off-Broadway productions of two shows by Alan Ayckbourn. Here’s an excerpt.
* * *
Alan Ayckbourn, England’s comic Chekhov, is also a famously accomplished stage director. In recent seasons 59E59 Theaters’ “Brits Off Broadway” summer festival has been doing theater-loving New Yorkers a signal service by importing Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, which Mr. Ayckbourn ran for 37 years, to perform his stagings of his own plays. This year’s fare includes the U.S. premiere of “Hero’s Welcome,” his 79th play, and the New York premiere of “Confusions,” a 1974 mixed bill of interconnected one-act plays. Both are musts: “Confusions” is funnier than just about anything else to be seen on a New York stage right now, while “Hero’s Welcome” is one of the most poignant dramas that Mr. Ayckbourn has given us.
First performed in 2015, “Hero’s Welcome” is a dark comedy of domestic strife, the story of three married couples who become ensnared in a tight tangle of mixed motives that leads inexorably to violence and despair. Unusually for Mr. Ayckbourn, Murray and Baba (Richard Stacey and Evelyn Hoskins), a returning war hero and his waif-like refugee bride, still have a fair chance at happiness, but the other two couples exemplify in sharply contrasting ways his long-standing conviction that marital life is a state in which, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, much is to be endured—most of it by women—and little enjoyed….
Unlike the impressively substantial “Hero’s Welcome,” “Confusions” is a dessert platter, five sketches about various aspects of middle-class life. One of them, “Gosforth’s Fête,” is a pulverizingly ludicrous miniature farce about a small-town church bazaar that disintegrates into utter chaos when a witless know-it-all (Mr. Dixon) leaves a backstage microphone switched on just in time for the whole town to overhear…but I’d better stop there. Only in the last play, “A Talk in the Park,” a snapshot of five strangers sitting in a park, each of whom wants to do all of the talking and none of the listening, does Mr. Ayckbourn draw explicitly from the well of melancholy that flavors most of his major work. Yet the other four plays, even “Gosforth’s Fête,” are sadder than they look, and though they’re all wonderfully funny, someone pays for every laugh….
* * *
Read the whole thing here.
Alan Ayckbourn talks about his work in the theater in a 2016 interview: