As one reviewer put it, “Table Manners is one delicious excuse to laugh. Six characters, hilariously unaware of their own flaws, represent two marriages grown stale and one courtship that can’t get off the ground.”
Alan Ayckbourn’s most highly-praised and popular comedy opens at the Actors Theatre Playhouse for eight performances on Fridays and Saturdays, July 28 through Aug. 19. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m.
A simple dinner at a family’s country home evolves into a family squabble that only Ayckbourn could turn into delightful and thoughtful comedy.
The house belongs to an unseen, tyrannical invalid woman whose unmarried daughter, Annie, cares for her. As the play opens, Annie’s brother Reg and his wife Sarah have arrived to take care of Annie’s mum so that she can get away for a weekend.
Sarah assumes — incorrectly, as things turn out — that a tryst has been arranged with the local vet, Tom. Havoc ensues, especially when the rest of the family shows up. The household explodes as siblings and in-laws engage in combat over love, marriage, and things that have been bottled up for a lifetime.
Featured in the cast are Sadie Fischesser as the lonely Annie, with Bruce Holloway as her vapid next-door neighbor/boyfriend Tom, Nan Mann as the clueless Sarah, with H. Sherman G. Morrison as her irritating husband Reg, and Mo Hart as the dominating Ruth, with Sam Murphy as her irrepressible husband Norman, who only wants to make everyone happy.
The madcap festivities are under the direction of Marilyn Tullgren, who said Ayckbourn “is of course reflecting in his inimitable style on marriage, family, and states of mind. As one character in the play muses, ‘We all get lonely.’ Indeed. Table Manners is a meditation on loneliness and more, wrapped in a sweet coating of delicious comedy.”
Cast members agree that Ayckbourn’s character-based slant on playwriting is fun, as well as challenging to perform.
Holloway says, “I love Ayckbourn’s way of presenting situations that are both silly and recognizable — all those petty squabbles that seem serious in the moment but laughable in hindsight — with droll British language that accentuates the absurdity of it all.”
Fischesser says “the funniest parts, to me, are the thing that are not said. It shows the limits of our willingness to use language at times and how ineffective it can be at other times. It allows you to laugh at awkward family dynamics without having to be part of the family.”
For Morrison, “Table Manners perfectly captures the underlying tensions and frustrations that tend to build up over time in people’s lives and relationships, especially as they approach middle age. Not surprisingly, these tensions bubble over (or explode) from time to time, which always makes for interesting theater, and especially when family relationships are involved."
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn’s joining the Library Theatre company in Scarborough, U.K., where he was the artistic director for 37 years, having begun his professional playwriting career there in 1959 and having made his directorial debut in 1961. To date, he has written 81 plays and his work has been translated into more than 35 languages. He was knighted in 1997 for “services to theater.”
“When I started in theater in the 1950s, we were essentially emulating what cinema could do so much better,” Ayckbourn says. “Then television brought theater into people’s own homes with production values that poor old weekly rep could not keep up with. So I’ve always wanted the audience to experience something uniquely live that they couldn’t get anywhere else.
“If you run a theater year after year as I have done, you can see when audiences become lethargic, and so you need some bright object to wave in front of them. In a way, they are sort of gimmicks, but more importantly they are a way of telling a story that also shouts ‘Hey! We’re actually here with you.’”