note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
One needn’t wait for a table at busy, upscale restaurant, Essa di Calvi. The posh eatery with its phalanx of eccentric, accented waitstaff with attitude and its effusive maitre d’( all humorously portrayed by versatile Gene Dante) race around a large main table, fastidiously set for a birthday celebration, thus setting the time, place and pace of Zeitgeist Stage Company’s delightful production of “Time of My Life,” a Sir Alan Ayckbourn masterpiece. Other patrons (lucky audience members) are seated, cabaret-style, at small circular tables on both sides of the room, staring mirror-like at each other and at the main party of six in-between. Two other tables flank each side of the main table, set for sideline action, all at Essa di Calvi.
Zeitgeist Director/Set Designer David J.Miller is a master at highlighting every dramatic and comic nuance, ensuring the eavesdropping audience doesn’t miss a syllable of this dysfunctional family’s relationship. And we relish it.
Ayckbourn’s play occurs same place, but in three separate time frames, all based on a central occasion in the present --- Jan. 18, 1992 --- while the other two progress forward and backward. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, thanks to Chris Fournier’s deft lighting that illuminates the active table while dimming the other two, which are always present, excluding during rapid costume changes off-stage. Fabian Aguilar’s costumes are fabulous markers of each character’s personality, lifestyle change, and fate, most especially when actor Gene Dante switches age, size, and accent as restaurant staffers Calvinu, Tuto, Aggi, Dinka, and Bengie
. The play opens with the Stratton family celebrating mother-wife Laura’s 54th birthday. Her affable husband Gerry (believably portrayed by Michael Steven Costello) warmly greets their eldest son Glyn (Glen Moore) and his estranged, patient wife, Stephanie, (Margarita Martinez). They’re all anticipating 23-year-old younger son, Adam’s (Evan Sanderson) arrival with his new girlfriend/fiancee, Maureen, who changes her outfits and hair color as rapidly as her description of her family members. Ellen Soderberg is delightfully ditsy and self-conscious as Maureen, especially during her blooming courtship with the equally self-conscious Adam, whom Sanderson portrays with touching cluelessness and naivete.
Laura loves Adam but not Glyn; dislikes Stephanie; and is caustically critical of Maureen, while Gerry is determined to keep the peace. The easygoing successful businessman is determined everyone enjoys the evening,which starts chaotically, with everybody talking simultaneously.
As the evening progresses and the family leaves, Gerry and Laura sit alone, discussing their lives, relationship, and surprises that neither remotely had anticipated. The more they drink, the more they talk - and reveal.
At one side table, Glyn and Stephanie’s relationship fast forwards, progressing over two years, changing both remarkably as their marriage dissolves. On the other side table, Adam’s relationship with Maureen unfurls backward through two months, from his proposing to her to their first awkward meeting that resembles a Shakespearean comedy of mistaken identities.
After postscript scenes, the play flashes jogs back to Gerry delivering a toast Laura that rings bittersweetly ironic - about making the most of the moment, and enjoying it while you can. You never know what’s coming, he says prophetically unaware he’d die in a car crash that night, changing the family dynamic.
Under Miller’s artistic direction, this entire cast is enjoyable, but Zeitgeist favorite Maureen Adduci, who delivered a commanding performance as Laura Bush in “Tiny Kushner,” is equally outstanding here. As Laura Stratton, her caustic, cutting comments, selfishness, and callousness are deliciously bitchy.
BOX INFO: Two-act play written by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, appearing with Zeitgeist Stage Company through March 3 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box Theater, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4,8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Advance tickets are $25; at the door, $30; seniors, students, $20; Wednesday, Feb.29, pay-what-you-can, $7 minimum. Visit the Box Office at nearby Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., call 617-933-8600 or online at BostonTheatreScene.com.