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Alan Ayckbourn’s romantic comedy LIVING TOGETHER is part of his trilogy of plays, THE NORMAN CONQUESTS. Two seasons ago the Depot mounted ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN, actually the sequel to this production. Set in an English country home in 1974, the plot centers around Norman and his escapades with both Annie, who lives there caring for her mother and Sarah, who’s married to Annie’s brother Reg and finally with his wife Ruth, Annie’s sister. Then there’s Tom, a socially inept veterinarian who is smitten with Annie. This family is not so much dysfunctional as it is overactive, especially when Norman’s around.
Those of you who saw the 2009 production will recognize the actors, as they’re back playing the same roles, with the exception of Norman. You may also recognize Jean Brookman’s fun 70s costumes. How could you forget Norman’s toque? Miss Brookman has also designed the comfortable living room set with a very significant rug and French doors leading into the garden. Gary Burlew has done a nice job with the lighting.
What separates the men from the boys in playwrighting is Mr. Ayckbourn’s ability to write a very funny sex farce that also features three-dimensional characters. As Sarah, Sandy York is so tightly wound she’s like a walking fingernail on a blackboard. Caroline Treadwell’s Annie has an air of vulnerability but also a contrasting air of strength, combined with occasional dithering. In other words, she’s human.
As the near-sighted Ruth who refuses to wear her glasses, Beth Glover holds attention by simply reading a magazine. Her scenes with Norman reveal her quick tongue and cynicism, but also her vulnerability.
Marshall York’s Reg, all elbows and knees, is very funny and oddly touching explaining his game, while Scott Shafer’s Tom is the very model of someone who can’t ever quite catch on or up. Their knock-knock joke scene together is hilarious.
James Patrick Nelson gives us a charming and manic Norman. He’s very good in the drunk scene and has a terrifically believable and infectious stage laugh. He says he wants to make everybody happy and has a joyously lustful way of going about it.
John Christopher Jones has done a fine job of directing. He’s an expert at staging Norman’s grappling and I loved the struggle to get Norman into a chair. He’s also helped his actors keep the characters believable. I’m not going to quote funny lines, since it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. It’s amazing how much comic mileage the actors get from “Mmm” and “Ahhh.”
LIVING TOGETHER, like all Ayckbourn’s plays, is characterized by interesting characters and good writing, on top of which it’s very funny. Chortling your way through it is a delightful way to spend a summer evening. If you’re lucky a train will go through and give Norman a chance for an ad lib.
As we left I asked my companion if she thought it was a five. I got an immediate and emphatic “Yes!” I happen to agree so, on a scale of one to five the Depot Theatre production of LIVING TOGETHER gets five boxcars. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.