Alan Ayckbourn’s LIFE OF RILEY (at Zeitgeist Stage through March 3rd) begins with a seemingly unprepossessing British couple (Is there any other kind?) running lines for their annual community theater production. When their little troupe has to find an actor to replace a pivotal role, life starts to imitate art: Zeitgeist had to do the same thing this past weekend. Victor Shopov to the rescue, without so much as a ripple. He was letter perfect in his very first outing, at my performance.
LIFE OF RILEY takes a long first act (establishing everybody’s relationship to Riley) to set up Act II. Now my favorite play(s) in the world are Ayckbourn’s three THE NORMAN CONQUESTS—so imagine my surprise when Act II turns Riley into Norman! As you may recall, Norman spends the whole of the trilogy trying to seduce every woman in the play(s)…and in LIFE OF RILEY, he too arranges assignations with all the women.
I don’t know why Ayckbourn returned to the same well: Perhaps because when his middle aged women blossom under the influence of an illicit affair, it’s always hilarious. (Speaking of middle age, some of the actors were and others who were supposed to be, were decidedly not, which was distracting for me.) Ayckbourn’s trick, of course---and he always has one (and I can’t reveal it)---is quite different in RILEY.
My favorite performances: Maureen Adduci’s thaw from harsh and disapproving to soft and eager under Riley’s spell and Peter Brown’s shift from dense and accepting to masterful and interested, when he finally grasps the situation with his wife and the aforementioned rake. And Angela Smith gives one of the loveliest performances I’ve seen this year as Riley’s ex, lured back by the amoral Svengali.
Director David Miller again designs a charming garden for the couples to frolic and fight in and he moves the actors speedily on and off, although that first act could use a cut or two. Since I’m a diehard Ayckbourn fan and since Zeitgeist has developed a nice little cottage industry with his plays, let’s hope there’s another next season.