Of the many theater companies in the Twin Cities, Theater In The Round is the only company that devotes meaningful attention to modern British playwrights. If one is to encounter work by Alan Ayckbourn, Simon Gray or Tom Stoppard in the Twin Cities, it generally will be at Theater In The Round and nowhere else.
On Friday evening, Joshua and I took Joshua’s sister to a Theater In The Round performance of Ayckbourn’s “Life And Beth”. It being a Friday evening, with other family members looking for something to do, my parents and my middle brother joined us for a night out.
Gentle and thoughtful, “Life And Beth” is a very fine play. It tells the tale of Beth, a middle-aged woman recently widowed after thirty years of marriage, as she deals with persons in her life attempting to assist her in addressing her bereavement—when in actuality Beth needs no assistance at all. A mettlesome sister-in-law bearing a lifetime of grievances, an obnoxious vicar with romantic designs, a dolt of a son and his dolt of a girlfriend (the latter utters not a word throughout the play): all intrude upon Beth as she tries to get through her first Christmas in thirty years without her husband.
To this mixture of oddities is added the sudden return of Beth’s husband, whose ghost appears on Christmas Eve—and stays on, refusing to leave. The ghost of Beth’s husband is an intolerable presence, more annoying and more unwelcome than all the other well-intentioned intruders combined.
During the course of the play, it is revealed that Beth’s husband had been domineering and controlling, and that Beth—once beyond her late husband’s clutches—became free at last to live a life without unpleasant constraints. It is in watching Beth’s progress as she breaks free from the additional clutches of her sister-in-law, her son and the vicar that the play proves compelling.
“Life And Beth” is a very small-scale, intimate drama, but it may prove durable. The play was first produced in 2008—and, for an Ayckbourn play, it aroused little interest and received little attention. However, it would not surprise me, fifty years from now, if the play becomes regarded as one of Ayckbourn’s finest. I thought “Life And Beth” immeasurably charming; the play showed Ayckbourn at the top of his craft.
Theater In The Round’s production was perfectly fine. We enjoyed the play and performance enormously.
On Saturday evening, Josh and I took Josh’s sister to a performance of Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” at Jungle Theater. Saturday’s performance was only the second performance of the run, and the production had not yet “settled”. Glitches abounded: timing was not spot-on; pacing was too slow; execution of the lighting plan was troublesome. For all practical purposes, it was a preview performance that we attended (although reviewers had been invited to the first night).
“Deathtrap” is not a good play—but it is a good amusement. It is very imaginatively constructed, and its plotline and dialogue are often very witty, adding much to an audience’s enjoyment. Following the twists and turns of the convoluted plot can provide a rewarding theatrical experience—and the final scene is extraordinarily clever and amusing.
Levin was a very strange man—“Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Boys From Brazil”, “The Stepford Wives”: all attest to his strangeness—and he operated well outside the realm of genuine literature.
Nonetheless, Levin understood the intricacies of plotting. He knew how to turn a tale’s components and conventions inside out—and he knew how to pervert them, to the nth degree, to the delight of audiences and readers.
As purveyor of off-kilter entertainment, Levin mastered the full bag of tricks.