Having spent time in England when Alan Ayckbourn was delighting audiences with his works, I was pleased to learn that Pear Theatre was beginning the New Year with Alan Ayckbourn’s hilarious farce, Taking Steps (directed by Troy Johnson). The show runs Thursdays through Sundays through February 9. The word must have gotten out that this is the play to see – it is. On its first Sunday the house was filled with an appreciative audience that really “got it” and enjoyed the opportunity of laughing a lot.
I had the opportunity of speaking with director Troy Johnson. I mentioned that I find that a farce that relies on physical comedy can often go awry. ( Not this show, to be sure). Troy commented that the cast in this show is so good that all he needed to do was tell them what he wanted and get out of the way. The cast was superb.
Johnson also noted that the team could pull the play apart and put it back together and that timing was critical. The designers did an amazing job. This was the most complicated work the stage manager has dealt with. Can you imagine dealing with 60 cues in 5 minutes?
Taking Steps is set in 1979 on three floors of an old and reputedly haunted house — but the stage is arranged so that the “stairs” are flat and all three floors are on a single level (hence the play on words in the title). The effect of the pantomime of the steps and doors closing was to pull the audience into the action. The seat was on three sides of the stage honoring the original work which was in the round, but the stage at Pear would not support that.
The complications of the plot are intriguing and uproarious funny. In this Victorian house (a former brothel) are gathered a hard-drinking tycoon, his wife, the tycoon’s lawyer, the builder, the tycoon’s brother-in-law, and his in-law’s fiancée.
Roland, the alcoholic businessman, and his wife Elizabeth (a dancer who gave up her career for her marriage, and is now in constant indecision about giving up her marriage) are renting the old Victorian from the builder, Leslie. Leslie is desperate to sell the house to get out from under his shady finances. Roland’s lawyer Tristram is on hand to negotiate the possible purchase, despite being almost completely useless at his job. Into this domestic disaster wander Elizabeth’s brother, Mark, who is juggling his failing relationship and his dreams of opening a fishing tackle shop; and Mark’s fiancée Kitty (who already left him at the altar once, was persuaded to come back to him after her arrest for suspected solicitation, and is considering jilting him again).
Ayckbourn has written 70 plays but he describes Taking Steps as his only really classic farce. In a collapsing house, relationships are falling apart. Four selfish characters get their just deserts, two deserving characters get theirs.” It is great fun and a refreshing change from day to day pressures to watch the team at play (work?).
Taking Steps features Todd Wright as businessman Roland Crabbe; Betsy Kruse Craig as his wife and former dancer Elizabeth Crabbe; Matt Brown as the builder, Leslie Bainbridge; David Boyll as Elizabeth’s brother Mark Boxer; Roneet Aliza Rahamim as Mark’s reluctant fiancée Kitty; and Max Tachis as the ineffectual lawyer Tristram Watson. The design and crew team includes Stage Manager Kelly Weber Barraza; Costume Designer Trish Files; Lighting Designer Meghan Souther; and Sound Designer David Hobbs. The sound and lighting were so important.
While the cast was perfect in their roles, I would be remiss not to give a shout out to Max Tachis as Tistram Watson. His antics were just right on but never over the top. And Betsy Kruse Craig was the perfect dancer.
Sinjin Jones, the incoming Artistic Director lead the talk back following the show and he pointing out that this was his first talk back. I find the talk back illuminating and enjoyable.
As I scanned the audience and saw everyone laughing uproariously, I knew this was a great production. Come and join the fun. Enjoy!
All photos by Michael Kruse Craig
All performances are held at the Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.thepear.org or calling (650) 254-1148.