Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ayckbourn Ensemble Concludes With Time of My Life

L-R: James Powell and Rachel Caffrey in TIME OF MY LIFE.  Photo by Tony Bartholomew.
Time of My Life, the third and final Alan Ayckbourn play being performed in repertory by the Ayckbourn Ensemble, opened last night at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan as part of that theatre’s annual Brits Off Broadway program.  We very much enjoyed the first two-thirds of this extended Ayckbourn program as we attested to in our reviews of Arrivals & Departures and Farcicals: A Double Bill of FrivolousComedies on June 5 and June 11.  But Time of My Life is far and away the best of them all.

The Ayckbourn Ensemble is a very talented troupe of 11 actors.  Four of them, Elizabeth Boag, Bill Champion, Sarah Stanley and Kim Wall were outstanding in both Arrivals & Departures and Farcicals but do not appear at all in Time of My Life.  The other seven did not appear in Farcicals and played multiple supporting roles in Arrivals &Departures where their considerable talents were not readily apparent.  But now, in Time of My Life, all seven have come into their own.  Each has been given a chance to shine and every one of them has made the most of it.

The play revolves around the lives of three couples: Gerry Stratton (Russell Dixon) and his wife Laura (Sarah Parks); their elder son, Glyn (Richard Stacey) and his wife, Stephanie (Emily Pithon); and their younger son, Adam (James Powell) and his latest girlfriend, Maureen (Rachel Caffrey).  Gerry is a successful businessman who has been happily married to Laura for more than thirty years but whose discovery of a decades old indiscretion of hers devastates his life.  Laura is a cold, self-centered bitch whose only concern, other than for herself, might be for Adam, with little love left for her older son, Glyn, or for his family.  Glyn is a philandering, unloved son, overshadowed by his successful father, and insensitive to his wife’s needs or those of his children.  Stephanie is his long-suffering wife – but only up to a point.  Adam is a spoiled, infantile romantic, seemingly unable to break free from his mother’s control.  And Maureen is a warm, loving, lower-class, hair dresser who doesn’t seem to have much of a chance if Laura Stratton is her competition.

It’s a volatile mixture and, in Ayckbourn’s hands, it holds forth the promise of great theatre.  With this very talented cast, that promise is realized.  All of the action takes place at tables in the Essa de Calvi, a restaurant owned by Calvinu (Ben Porter), at which the Stratton family tends to hold its celebrations and luncheon meetings.  But all of that action takes place over a period of years which provides the cast with ample opportunity to bloom, notwithstanding the confines of space.

Although Ayckbourn wrote Time of My Life in 1992, this production marks its New York premiere and it is difficult to understand why it did not make it to these shores sooner.  The play is intricately written in typical Ayckbourn fashion, with both flashbacks and flash forwards and with the most entertaining spatial and temporal convolutions.  It makes for a splendid conclusion to this long overdue Ayckbourn program. 

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