note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Maintaining the status quo can be rewarding, especially with “Round and Round the Garden,” Gloucester Stage Company’s third and final installation of Alan Ayckbourn’s hilarious fractured family farce of “The Norman Conquests Trilogy”.
Gloucester Stage Artistic Director/Director Eric C. Engel and his star-studded band of merry couples perform again, this time in this fabulously funny two-act play written in 1973. Also returning and adding their special touches are resident scenic designer Jenna McFarland Lord, whose outdoor country house facade and lawn are splendid. Resident lighting designer Russ Swift’s special effects and costume designer Gail Astrid Buckley’s original costumes are pleasingly familiar, too.
This trilogy involving a dysfunctional, dispassionate group of siblings, spouses and insignificant other, is hysterical, especially with Engel’s precise direction and this reunion cast’s split-second comedic timing and defining body language.
The first play, “Table Manners,” appeared at Gloucester Stage in 2010, followed by the second play, “Living Together,” in 2011. “Round and Round the Garden” rounds out the trilogy through July 1.
Steven Barkhimer is hilarious again as nutty, philandering Norman; so’s Barlow Adamson as dense, clueless veterinarian neighbor, Tom, who avoids romantic commitment, but loves Annie; Sarah Newhouse, who’s hysterical as younger sister Annie, especially during her escapades with brother-in-law Norman and her labored chats with Tom; Richard Snee as affable Reg, Annie and Ruth’s affable brother and Sarah’s husband; movie-stage-TV star, Lindsay Crouse as uptight Sarah; and versatile, talented Adrianne Krstansky, who replaces Jennie Israel as Ruth, Norman’s myopic, pragmatic business executive wife of five years and Annie and Reg’s sister.
Each play is set simultaneously, over the same weekend in July, but in different areas of the house. “Table Manners” occurs in the dining room; “Living Together” in the living room, and this one, in the garden - round and round the garden, in fact.
The trilogy was successfully revived on Broadway in 2009 and won the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Tony awards for best revival then. It’s still delighting audiences, especially in Gloucester. The action is madcap and Ayckbourn’s dialogue is crisp, comedic, and enjoyable.
The cast revolves around Barkhimer, who’s a master at silliness. His facial expressions, movements, gestures, and timing spur the others, who are obviously having fun here.
Stay-at-home, earthy-grungy, unkempt Annie, is saddled with the unpopular task of caring for her bedridden mother. Her siblings return home twice a year to give Annie a well-needed weekend away. This getaway goes awry, because everyone discovers she’s planning an alleged tryst with Norman. Dutifully, Sarah calls Ruth, creating more hilarious complications.
When Norman unexpectedly shows up at the family home and sees Tom, he tells Annie her erstwhile veterinarian suitor is a creepy VET - very egocentric twit. Contrastingly, Norman describes himself as “strangely engaging”.
On the other hand, Tom lacks Norman’s childlike finesse. When Tom mistakenly thinks Ruth is coming on to him, he tells her she looks better with her glasses. Tom doesn’t score points with Annie, either, when he tells her she looks like a mess. When Annie finally wears a pretty floral dress - covered with an oversized, shapeless cardigan - Norman unctuously spouts, “The sunshine has brought the butterfly out of its chrysalis.”
Norman’s outfits and antics grow increasingly outlandish, upping the laugh meter. He tumbles on the lawn and in the flower garden with Annie; purrs and woos Ruth into sympathetic submission; and wins Sarah over with a kiss and embrace, saying “You’ve never liked me or tried to understand me, Sarah,” after contriving a story about a little girl like her, who rejected him as a child.
When Norman explains to a disgruntled Ruth that he only wants to make everyone happy, he faces us, his eyes twinkling mischievously, smiling like a just-fed Cheshire cat. After some mishaps, the family is resigned to enduring yet another day with Norman, while theatergoers applaud with pleasure.
Don’t miss this marvelous comedy. While there, check out Cape Ann resident- Rocky Neck Art Colony photographer David Piemonte’s exhibit, on view only on performance days.
BOX INFO: Two-act play written by Alan Ayckbourn, appearing with Gloucester Stage Company through July 1 at 267 East Main St., Gloucester: June 27-30, at 8 p.m.; matinees, June 30 at 3 p.m.; July 1 at 4 p.m. Tickets:$40; seniors, students, $35. Call the Box Office at 978-281-4433 or visit www.gloucesterstage.org.