How many times can you watch a woman attempt to commit suicide — even if it’s part of the dark humor of a play — before it becomes just too much? As in, too many stabs at the same joke and too slow in the delivery of said jokes? In Station Theatre’s opening night performance of Absurd Person Singular, both of these comedic problems were present.
While Station Theatre’s production Alan Ayckbourn’s 1972 farce was a valiant effort — the cast chemistry was there, many of the comedic bits were right on — the second of the show’s three acts fell short.
Directed by Station veteran actress Joi Hoffsommer, Absurd Person Singular takes place in early 1970s England and follows three married couples during three successive Christmases. Each of three acts takes place in a different couple’s kitchen; during the play’s two, 10-minute intermissions, the main kitchen set (smartly designed by Wesley Huff) is reconfigured with props to match each couple’s social status. Throughout the play, the couple’s social standings are inverted — the poor, up-and-comers displace the successful but fading upper class.
The show starts off with a bang, showing Jane and Sidney Hopcroft (well-played by Katie Baldwin and Matthew Green, respectively) preparing for a Christmas party in their humble living quarters for guests socially above them. The pace and line delivery was perfect; so good, in fact, that it set expectations very high for the second act.
The second act takes place in the kitchen of Eva and Geoffrey Turner, who are the upper-middle class couple. Eva (Cara Maurizi) has no lines in this act, and for the sake of not spoiling the plot, had reason to be upset; as a result, she acts like a suicidal psycho zombie. Rien Rogers, who excellently plays Geoffrey as an alcoholic ladies man in the first act, is sadly absent for the bulk of the action. There are funny moments — like Eva sticking her head in the oven to kill herself while Jane thinks she’s cleaning it — but this act fell short, for two reasons. First, there is so much going on during this act that I found Eva’s multiple suicide attempts, like after the third try, frustratingly distracting. Secondly, this act was just not at the same speed as the first act, which made it less funny.
The third act takes place in the kitchen of the upper-crust Ronald (Lincoln Machula) and Marion (Debbie Richardson) Brewster-Wright. The costumes, by Michelle Mills, truly depict Ronald and Marion’s state of decline; compared to their finery of the first act, Ronald now wears a bulky sweater while Marion hardly wears anything at all (actually she wears a revealing nightgown). This final act doesn’t pick up speed until the Hopcrofts arrive – decked out and drunk from another soiree. And Jane and Sidney’s antics — saving the third act from a slump of sporadic comedic bits — will have everyone literally dancing.
So is this play worth seeing? Only if you like dark humor and have the cash to spare. Perhaps the slowness of the second act was just an opening night fluke? I hope so.