With more than 60 plays, British knight Sir Alan Ayckbourn has become one of the most prolific living playwrights. He is best known for his farcical dramas of the British middle class, which is evident in Temple’s production of Taking Steps.
Since he left school at age 17, Ayckbourn became a man of the theater as an actor, playwright and director. With his knowledge of the art of drama, Ayckbourn’s plays are not only alive with comedy, but are also full of incredible acting.
“His plays are terrific explorations of what theater can do as a storytelling medium,” said Taking Steps director and Temple’s associate professor of theater, Douglas Wager.
Traveling to Scarborough, England, Wager had the opportunity to work with Ayckbourn in 1994. After meeting with the playwright, Wager knew what Ayckbourn was trying to accomplish with his farcical Taking Steps.
“He makes the improbable possible,” Wager said. “The action takes place in a Victorian home with three floors in three different rooms, and it’s all happening simultaneously on one stage.”
The paradoxical setup is perfect for physical comedy that would not be present in a film, Wager said.
“This puts demands on the actors,” Wager said. “Ayckbourn purposely challenges them in imaginative ways.”
Through disciplined rehearsals, the actors were able to use their craft with much imagination, Wager said. During rehearsals, the actors worked with mirrors in order to see how to make the illusions.
Adding to its farcical nature, the plot is overlapping, but simple. With the theme of being trapped in the British bourgeoisie, the characters deal with finding their identity. Wager said Taking Steps is Ayckbourn’s attempt at satirizing Britain’s class structure.
Wannabe dancer Elizabeth, played by Jenny Dempster, turns to her brother Mark, played by Michael Miller, to help her escape her marriage to Roland, an alcoholic bucket manufacturer played by Corey Sorenson.
While trying to help liberate his sister, Mark must leave his troubled fiancee, Kitty, at the manor home, a big risk for Mark considering her constant fleeing nature. Amidst this drama, Roland and manor-owner, Bainbridge, are attempting to settle a deal, with Watson as the middleman.
Watson, played by Kunal Nayyar, is a fool with words, causing much word play, and is at the heart of much of the play’s comedy. This shy and meager man finds himself to be inadvertently in the middle of the two relationships and causes much laughter.
Nayyar’s physical body gestures and comedic timing are perfect. He had the audience roaring with laughter, as did the other characters when they encountered the imaginary stairs. Their skillful attempts at creating the illusion of three floors are very successful.
With the “choreography of a farcical dance,” as Wager said, the cast not only creates numerous comical moments, but also makes the audience appreciate the art of acting and the art of theater.
Taking Steps is running at Temple’s Randall Theater (entrance is inside Annenberg Hall) from now until Saturday, April 23 at 8 p.m. and also 2 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $15 available at the Liacouras Center Box Office, www.ticketmaster.com, or by phone at (215) 336-2000. Tickets are $12 for seniors, children and faculty. Tickets are free for all students with a GAF card.
Kaitlyn Dreyling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.