- Keely Enright's take on Ayckbourn's holiday-themed farce brings together three couples and three Christmases
Absurd Person Singular
Village Repertory Company
Running through Dec. 9
The Village Playhouse
730 Coleman Blvd., 856-1579
Turkey-stuffed patrons found their way to Village Playhouse on Friday after Thanksgiving for the opening night of Absurd Person Singular. Written by a stalwart of British farce, Alan Ayckbourn, Singular had its Broadway debut in 1974. The play covers three consecutive Christmas Eves at the houses of three different couples. The couples aren't necessarily friends, but they're tied through the booming real estate development business. Sidney (Josh Wilhoit) is a developer with a Betty Crocker wife named Jane (Emily Wilhoit). Geoffrey (Dave Reinwald) is an architect with an on-edge wife named Eva (Susan Kattwinkel). Ronald (Karl Bunch) is the banker with influence and a drunken wife named Marion (Rainey Evans).
While the women are more defined by their problems and the men are more defined by their professions, the men are not without their burdens and issues. Sidney has a nervous desire to please and fit in, which by the end of the play has turned into a clumsy desire to show off as his business grows. Geoffrey, in his quest to live the ultimate bachelor's lifestyle, overlooks the effects his actions have on his wife. And Ronald, who starts things off as a somewhat distant man, settles into a state of simply ignoring his wife.
Sidney and Jane are the youngest couple (at times cute and at others frighteningly stuck in antiquated marriage roles), who in the first act are nervously hosting a party and trying to impress. Josh Wilhoit's ingratiating, snorting laughter and forceful voice keep him a powerful presence without being overbearing, a balance Emily Wilhoit might observe rather than indulging so much in the high-pitched twittering, giggling aspects of her character.
Reinwald subtly shows Geoffrey for what he is: a self-absorbed charmer, a hypocrite (he refuses to get involved with Sidney because of what he thinks are shady business practices, yet he carries on affairs with other women), yet also a highly likable man.
Kattwinkel excels in the second act, which takes place on the eve of Eva and Geoffrey's Christmas party. Finally fed up with Geoffrey's philandering, Eva has succumbed to the impulse behind her pill-gobbling we saw in the first act, now in an attempt to end her misery. Not always the stuff of high comedy, but in Ayckbourn's world it finds its legs. Kattwinkel and Reinwald are never fully convincing as the couple Eva and Geoffrey are — however complicated their definition — but each is strong in individual portrayal.
Bunch and Evans play off each other very well, the distance between them growing with each act as Marion sinks more into booze and Ronald more into apathy. Bunch — whose hairpiece should have its own credit — is consistently funny, and Evans grows into her character nicely.
Director Keely Enright keeps the energy high and provides lively staging; the action flowed seamlessly in spite of sound glitches on Friday's opening performance.
Underneath the lighthearted, belly-laughing antics of these characters lies the deeper theme of the consequences of one's actions. What's genius about the play is that you don't even have to see that theme to get a satisfying, enjoyable night of theatre out of it. Singular can be whatever you want it to be — a layered, even dark play about the actions people take and the way people treat each other, or a hysterical slapstick comedy that will leave you feeling wholly entertained. Either view is fair enough and deserved. The play is not, however, mere fluff. It is at the least a well-written comedy with sparklingly clever lines and hints of insight into class, money, society, and relationships. The Village Repertory serves both the comedy and the deeper themes here well, and it's a good start to the holiday theatre season.