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A very farcey Christmas: (l-r) Julia Coffey, Christopher Innvar and Finnerty Steeves in Absurd Person Singular.

Photo: Kevin Sprague

Mistletoe Mayhem

by James Yeara

Absurd Person Singular

By Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Jesse Berger

Barrington Stage Company, through August 29

This early 70s farce by the prolific English playwright Alan Ayckbourn is given a fast-paced, tightly wrapped production by Barrington Stage Company. The Main Stage is given a false proscenium three feet wide and two stories tall and wrapped in Christmas paper scattered with grinning Santas. A huge red velvet ribbon curls seductively above. Through a succession of three kitchens—Christmas 1973, 1974, 1975— in upper- middle-class Britain, Absurd Person Singular is a hysterical skewering of that most unholy of occasions: Christmas Eve parties.

Absurd Person Singular opens “Last Christmas, 1973” with Jane Hopcroft’s (Julia Coffrey) yellow-ruffle-pantied buttocks facing the audience down stage center. The too-perky housewife is on her hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor just before the Christmas Eve party is slated to start in her offstage living room. Her ocean-blue floral mini-dress matches the color of the kitchen walls and leaves her yellow-ruffle panties perpetually visible, like a toddler’s dress (Sara Jean Tosetti’s costume design is disgustingly 1970s, and perfect through-out). Husband Sidney Hopcroft (Robert Petkoff) hopes to score some business success with his more successful invitees: banker Ronald Brewster-Wright (Graeme Malcolm), his barely-able- to-contain-her-liquor wife, Marion (Henny Russell), pretentious architect and successful serial adulterer Geoffrey Jackson (Christopher Innvar), and his frayed wife Eva (Finnerty Steeves).

While the party ostensibly takes place on the off-stage side of the swinging door, more action takes place in the kitchen (an apt subtitle would be “Get away from Dick and Lottie Potter” the unseen but definitely heard and talked about fourth couple voiced by Kristen van Ginhoven and Nick Webb). The snobby Brewster-Wrights are fascinated that the cabinet doors work and are agog over the automatic washing machine Jane receives as a Xmas present: “‘Whites,’ ‘coloreds,’ My God it’s apartheid!” Marion exclaims reading the washer. It’s like an extended Monty Python sketch: “upperclass twits in the kitchen.” Soon Ronald and Geoffrey are chatting about the women as if Sidney were a tall blender: “Nice neat little bum,” Geoffrey smiles toothily, make a two-handed air grab like he was double-fisting watermelons.

The disdain is always lurking just behind the pleasant English diphthongs. When Jane has to hide in the garden during the pouring rain instead of explaining to her guests why she had to dash out to the off-license to get some mixers, her husband says “quite right” and announces the night a success, leaving Jane, in the end, where she started: scrubbing the kitchen floor, yellow-ruffled panties aimed directly at the audience.

Act 2 of this kitchen room comedy is “This Christmas, 1974” at Geoffrey and Eva’s. At opening, Geoffrey tries to jolly her along to “do something good for once in our lives” by divorcing him so he can shack up with Sally, while Eva stares blankly at the audience and writes a suicide note. When the self-obsessed Geoffrey realizes his predicament, that it’s their turn to host the Christmas Eve party and the depressed Eva forgot to cancel it, he rushes out for mixers and to take care of their howling, growling dog, only to return just in time to stop the silent Eva from jumping out the fourth-floor window. The rest of the act turns on Eva’s silent suicide attempts by knife, oven, pills, noose, turpentine, and electrocution, only to be thwarted by the good intentions of the Hopcrofts and Brewster-Wrights; here an apt subtitle would be “Drinks with Schmucks.” The attempts and the misprisions the others make misconstruing Eva’s intentions are howlingly funny. But still the disdain bubbles to the surface.

Act 3’s “Next Christmas, 1975” at the cold country estate of the Brewser-Wrights is as dark and disdainful as can be imagined. It would be a fit tonic for December, and a brave theater would stage it then, amid the eggnogs, icy flagpoles, and “fra-gil-e” leg lamps that ubiquitously await. Until then, let BSC’s Absurd Person Singular remind you that “Happy Festivus” is only 119 days away.

 


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