Time of My Life
Playwright Alan Ayckbourn deftly weaves the tapestry of family’s complicated, sometimes dark, history right before our eyes in the production of "Time of My Life" from Zeitgeist Stage Company running at the Boston Center for the Arts now through March 3.
Ayckbourn’s piercing work dissects the inner workings of the Stratton family and its members. The Strattons own a successful London-based business, but with the state of the economy and all (it’s 1992 in the play, it might as well be today as far as money worries go) there are dark clouds on the horizon.
But the Strattons put their tensions and worries aside, more or less, for the 54th birthday of matriarch Laura, a somewhat sour woman who disapproves of her younger son’s fiancee, and of her elder son in general.
As the play begins the birthday dinner is winding down. Everyone present has had plenty to drink, especially Maureen (Ellen Soderberg), the wife-to-be of younger son Adam (Eva Sanderson). Maureen is terribly nervous about meeting Adam’s parents, and her fears are well-founded, as Laura takes an instant dislike to her: For heaven’s sake, the girl is a hairdresser and, no doubt, a gold digger!
While Maureen is off in the restroom dealing with a sudden bout of alcohol and nerves induced sickness, elder son Glyn (Glen Moore) is getting an earful of helpful (and not so helpful) advice from his father, Gerry (Michael Steven Costello), who is determined that his son’s wandering eye should not break up his marriage to Stephanie (Margarita Martinez)... who, as it turns out, is no favorite of Laura’s, either. "She keeps him on short rations," Laura declares of Stephanie, once the others have left, going on to declare that she can tell a woman’s intimate "appetites" from any number of clues. "She toys with her food, sips at her drinks, and picks at her men!" If there’s one thing Laura and Glyn have in common, it’s a healthy appetite for all of life’s sustaining pleasures.
As Gerry and Laura linger late into the night at the restaurant, Glyn and Stephanie step into the future in a series of vignettes that take place days, then weeks, then months later. There’s been a sudden change in the family fortunes, and the fallout is considerable... but is that all that’s preoccupying Glyn? Or has he lapsed into his old ways?
Adam and Maureen step into the past in their own series of scenes, which similarly progress, stage by stage, to their initial unpromising meeting.
Ayckbourn pours layers of love and hate, and virtue and venality, into his characters. Shocking revelations emerge, but that’s not Ayckbourn’s central purpose here. The play’s message that the happy times in life too often go by unremarked in the moment is true enough, and hardly novel; but what is new here, and striking, is the emotional honesty with which Ayckbourne leavens his thesis. Namely: Even our happiest moments are variegated, multi-faceted, and shot through with mystery and misunderstanding. The same happy smile we look back on with longing also harbors, in the event, a malicious glitter that we either edit out of memory or never grasped was there to begin with. It’s a wicked twist indeed, and it tinges this already dark comedy with a pitch-black gloss.
All of the action takes place at the same restaurant, though across a range of dates spanning two full years; we travel far and wide here, not in place but in time. The cast show themselves to be in full command of the various dates, but also of the play’s London setting. Dialect coaches Lisa Rowe-Beddoe and McCaela Donovan have prepared the actors well, and their voices, no less than their mannerisms, match their purported Englishness.
The set (designed by director David Miller) is simple, and the theater in the round seating configuration makes use of the restaurant setting, with the first rows consisting of small tables. The atmosphere is enhanced by a "sweets trolley" that rolls around at intermission, with delicious offerings from Flour Bakery. (Proceeds benefit Zeitgeist Stage Company.)
But if there’s any single element that convinces the audience that this two and a half hour experience is unfolding at a family-run Italian eatery, it’s Gene Dante, who plays the staff--everyone from the convivial owner to the most surly busboy. It’s a dazzling display of quick-changes and multiple role playing that underscores the sparkling performances from the entire cast.
"Time of My Life" continues though March 3, 2012, at the Boston Center for the Arts, located at 539 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.
Performance schedule: Wednesday and Thursday evenings: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. Saturday afternoons at 4:00 p.m.
For tickets and more information go to http://www.bostontheatrescene.com/season/production.aspx?id=11421&src=t or to http://www.zeitgeiststage.com