It’s been a while since we’ve seen an Alan Ayckbourn play on local stages—kind of surprising when you consider his famed prolific output—so the current Dog Days Theatre production of his Relatively Speaking is welcome, as is the arrival on the summer scene of this new theater company itself.
This comedy of misunderstandings is one of the playwright’s earlier works, dating from the mid-1960s, and director Brendon Fox has wisely kept the action of the piece in that time period. (Some things might feel dated if he hadn’t.) But early though it is, it certainly provides a prime example of Ayckbourn’s style and talent. You might think of Relatively Speaking as a farce, but as Fox quotes Ayckbourn in his director’s notes, “slow, quiet farce.” It’s not overplayed, and the mistakes its four characters make feel like logical ones, building step by step to a solidly funny crescendo.
Those four consist of two couples, first the young Ginny (Kelly Elizabeth Smith) and Greg (Wyatt C. McNeil), newly in love and waking up in Ginny’s London flat the morning she’s due to pay a visit to her parents in the country. But is that really where’s she going, so insistently without him? Greg’s not perhaps the sharpest tool in the drawer, but even he can’t help but be suspicious when mysterious phone calls, flower bouquets and candy boxes keep piling up around him. Ginny’s had a past, it’s clear, but is there still someone else on the scene in the present? Naturally, he decides to follow her to what he believes is her parents’ home.
But he arrives before her, at the residence of Sheila (Julia Gibson) and Philip (David Kortemeier), an older couple having their Sunday breakfast in the garden. Actually, he meets Sheila first, and although she has no idea who he is or why he’s here, she’s not about to be impolite to him. That wouldn’t be the British thing to do, and in fact everyone here is trying, in his or her own way, to keep the escalating situation as calm as possible, even though we quickly realize that Philip is actually in fact the former lover to whom Ginny needs to pay one last visit.
The cast, under Fox’s smart direction, plays it all out entertainingly, with the older couple perhaps more used to this sort of thing than the younger one. I found the interaction between Gibson and Kortemeier often priceless for what they don’t say as much as for what they do, as a pair whose long marriage may sometimes be boring but also probably suits them. Gibson’s dryness in delivery has a bite to it, and her solicitude towards Greg and Ginny’s situation, before she puzzles it all out for herself, is increasingly funny.
David Covach’s costumes are appropriate to the period and the people, and Rew Tippin’s sound design, filled with bouncy 1960s British pop tunes, works to keep the mood light. A radio playing the Herman’s Hermits hit “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” as a set change takes place behind Sheila’s hanging laundry is one example. And the set itself (by Lex Liang), switching from a modest, messy London flat to the serenity of the country home, works to place us in the proper frame of mind.
All in all, Relatively Speaking is an amusing evening and a nice break from daily realities. It continues onstage at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s Cook Theatre through July 30; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.