San Diego, CA—O.K. The cat’s out of the bag! George Riley, beloved teacher, friend and past lover of beloved friends has only six months to live.
How do I know?
This is how it all went down. Absent-minded Colin (Colin McPhillamy), who is a physician, is perplexed (he’s always in a state of perplex) at the news that a dear friend, George, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. While wondering out loud how to deal with the possibility of breaking the results to him, he shares the news with his wife, Kathryn (Henny Russell) but never gives her the name of the friend because he doesn’t want anyone else to know until the doctor informs George.
Kathryn, who figures out who the friend is, and is not one to hold back on a little gossip, calls her friend Tamsin (Dana Green) and blabs the news to her. She in turn tells her wayward husband Jack (Ray Chambers), who all but has a breakdown because he was ‘best friends’ with George from the beginning and now what was he going to do to ease George’s pain?
If that’s not bad enough, Monica (Nisi Sturgis), George’s ex, who walked out on him, is bawling her eyes out because the guy she’s with now, the strong silent farmer, Simeon (David Bishins) has a son who hasn’t connected with her yet and her man refuses to engage in conversation. And Simeon, well, he doesn’t have much to say about anything. His best moves come when his temper and frustration has him almost kicking a discarded tractor tire left in the yard on his farm. What the hay?
But don’t be misled by a little bit of gossip and a few oddball folks looking to relive their past associations with a guy that everyone seems to love but who is causing havoc with their lives. This is playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s playground and what you see is not always what you get. Ayckbourn, who has penned 75 plays so far and has had 11 (including this one) of his plays mounted in some form or other, on one stage or another at the Old Globe Theatre over the years, is a pro at these clever cat and mouse games. The very first one I saw was “How The Other Half Loves” on the then Cassius Carter Stage more years ago than I care to remember.
“Life of Riley” (Remember the radio and T.V. show “The Life of Riley” starring William Bendix?) is making its American Premiere with this showing and it doesn’t differ much from the formulaic pattern of many of Ayckbourn’s other plays where unfinished conversations drift off into the sunset, assumptions are assumed, there is more than meets the eye going on between all the couples on stage and even those off stage (we never meet George) in varying degrees of confusion and miscommunication.
Most of the characters are stock characters that could be dropped down into any of his other plays, but of the others I’ve seen, they are a bit more interesting than this group. For the most part they are all usually doing whatever it is that has them busying about trying to hide whatever it is from the others. In this particular play, with a bit of a clever twist, Colin, Kathryn and Tamsin are amateur thespians rehearsing, of all plays “Relatively Speaking” Ayckbourn’s 1965 play that is again, riddled with one set of assumptions and miscommunications about relationships seen on and off the set, with another set of realities.
At plays end most of the plot lines are neatly settled with a few belly laughs in between. Unfortunately, “Life of Riley” isn’t one of Ayckbourn’s most creative or even interesting endeavors and his peeps seem to be in terminal hysteric frenzy (except Colin) most of the time. They holler and cry at the drop of a hat or stomp and run if they’re not happy. This happens in a never-ending stream of exits up and down stairs or coming in from or walking out of ramps. Pretty much, it’s much ado about nothing.
Director, Richard Seer, a familiar face at The Old Globe, leads his talented cast with an eye on the timing, and that is what makes Ayckbourn so damn funny. A gesture by Colin, a look by Kathryn, a sneer by Tamsin, or an outburst or cell phone interruption by Jack, an almost whack at the tractor tire by Simeon or burst of tears by Monica changes the entire direction of a scene. After all, Ayckbourn’s job is to keep us on our toes and that’s done, overall.
Robert Morgan’s set design is neatly divided into four patio or garden areas, all pleasing to the eye and (he designed the costumes as well) the clothes are class appropriate. Paul Peterson’s Pink Floyd and AC/DC blaring outbursts of music bring us back to a time when George was oh so involved with both Kathryn and Tamsin. Chris Rynne’s lighting is right on at every corner of George’s past life.
While this is not one of Ayckbourn’s best shot, his plays are well worth seeing just for the fun of it.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through June 5th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Comedy/Farce
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: $29.00-$67.00