Alan Ayckbourn is famous for placing a world of trouble on the shoulders of his hapless characters, then pulling the rug out from under them—mind you, in high comic style. The Nora Theatre’s ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR (playing at the Central Square Theater through August 18th), superbly directed by Daniel Gidron, reminded me of the deftness Harold Lloyd achieved in his comic catastrophes.
We meet three couples, whose kitchens will be both refuge and madhouse on three successive Christmas eves. One kitchen wanderer from the first party declares the living room guests to be “splendidly jolly, booming people” and you immediately know the opposite is true. But you don’t see the disaster first hand. Better yet is the glimpse of what’s going on behind the festivities: panic, mayhem and meltdown.
The cast is pure joy, with David Berger-Jones as the hilariously obtuse host of the first party and Samantha Evans deliciously infuriating as the overwrought, reluctant hostess. The first act does the work of setting up, with Liz Hayes wonderfully off kilter as the wacky, inebriated wife of Bill Mootos’ marvelously unrepentant philanderer. Add the wry Steve Barkhimer as an uninterested banker who’d rather be anywhere else and Stephanie Clayman as his tart tongued wife (her words fairly dripping with sophisticated sarcasm) and you have the sure fire recipe for comic gold.
If only Act II could be played twice, thrice even. I could see it a hundred times, just to watch Liz Hayes fume, despair, roll her eyes up into her head or move her pupils to the side in horror and then, widen them in disbelief. Her tour de force, without speaking a word, is the funniest performance I’ve seen this year. You cannot stop laughing and yet you care about this poor woman, surrounded by morons.
Gidron knows how to gild the lily, so everyone gets into the act. There’s an Edward Scissorhands-Mootos moment, not to mention Barkhimer’s leap to safety on top of the kitchen table…where, of course, he isn’t, which is simply priceless when all hell breaks loose. Act III gives Clayman the splendid chance to run roughshod over her visitors, especially Mootos, squashed like a cushion into an easy chair.
Ayckbourn has written over seventy plays, all of them gems. Maybe Nora could do one a year for the next decade or so. That would make me deliriously happy.