Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 1998
Oldcastle has another Ayckbourn hit on its hands. Their production of Ayckbourn's 1991 comedy "Taking Steps" is a flawless gem.
Oldcastle has made a lucky find in Sir Alan Ayckbourn, one of the modern theatre's most prolific and consistently funny playwrights. Armed with Ayckbourn's hilarious scripts and a core group of actors who have appeared in several of his shows at Oldcastle, the company is well on their way to establishing a reputation for producing Ayckbourn to rival the WTF's reputation with Tennessee Williams. "Taking Steps" follows the company's successful productions of Ayckbourn's "Bedroom Farce" and "The Norman Conquests" trilogy in previous years.
Starting with a wonderful script which gives us sensitively drawn characters in an hilarious plot with a clever premise, Oldcastle adds a fine cast under the able direction of Derek Campbell, and sets them loose on an amazing set by Kenneth Mooney.
"Taking Steps" is set in Britain in 1975 in an old Victorian house which has seen better days. The steps taken in the course of the play are both figurative and literal. A great deal of time is spent ascending and descending the two flights of stairs in the house. Watch for the distinctive body language each actor has created for his or her character as they tackle those stairs.
Mooney has done a masterful job creating this rambling house on Oldcastle's small stage. His inventive set combined with David V. Groupe's superb lighting design and the actors strong sense of timing turn a minimal set into a believable home. Keep your eye on how Groupe lights the back-drop as the characters move from floor to floor and from room to room.
The house really is the star of the show. It precipitates the action and contains it. The house is currently occupied by newlyweds Roland (Lawrence Bull) and Elizabeth (Meeghan Holaway) Crabbe, and by Elizabeth's brother Mark (Richard Howe) a man whose conversation is so dull it even puts him to sleep. Roland wants to buy the house. Elizabeth feels trapped there. The owner, Leslie Bainbridge (Tim Foley), is desperate to sell it. Mark is desperate to reunite with his former fiancee Kitty (Lindsay Dyett). Tristram Watson (Dan Lundy) a hapless junior partner in the law firm representing the Crabbes in the sale, gets caught up in the push and pull of everyone's conflicting desires.
Each of the six characters is brilliantly drawn by Ayckbourn, and equally well delineated by the actors playing them. Lundy, however, is a real stand out in the difficult role of Tristram Watson. Ayckbourn has written the character from the inside out, asking the actor to completely inhabit the role in order to make Watson sympathetic and comprehensible to the audience. Lundy succeeds on all counts.
Jenny Fulton has costumed the cast beautifully too. From the second the lights come up on the opening scene, there is no doubt that you are in 1975. Audience members who were around back then feel the immediate pinch of shame as they realize that they had a dress/pair of boots/haircut like that, and think just how silly they must have looked. Younger folks yearn for that cool, retro look.
A script, a cast, costumes, a set and some lights are not a show. Like a master chef Campbell has taken those ingredients and turned them into a delightful confection. He has done what a good director should do - he has given the play back to the cast and the audience by making his own contributions so finely crafted that they seem invisible.
"Taking Steps" runs through August 15 at the Oldcastle Theatre Company at the Bennington Center for the Arts at the intersection of Route 9 and Gypsy Lane. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM, Sundays at 4 PM, and Saturdays and the final Wednesday at 3 PM. Tickets are $20 to $25, with student seats always $10. Call 802-447-0564 for information and reservations.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1998