- Photo by Pittsburgh Public Theater
- Leah Curney, Tim McGeever and Ann McDonough star in Time of My Life.
In the land of contemporary British playwrights, Alan Ayckbourn is like the taller, plainer sister. Tom Stoppard's the brilliant flash, Caryl Churchill is the frighteningly intelligent one ... and there, over in the corner, invited but somehow not really welcome, is Alan Ayckbourn.
Is that fair? I don't know. Ayckbourn's written a gazillon plays, most about suburban infidelity. But what keeps him from being lumped in with Ray Cooney, the king of low British sex farce, is that Ayckbourn always uses some formal gimmick to tell the story.
I don't mean that pejoratively. Ayckbourn's usually playing around with stage time, real time and our notion of "reality." And on more than one occasion (The Norman Conquests, for instance), the gimmick is sheer genius.
Moreover, like Neil Simon at a certain age, Ayckbourn has turned his attention to darker themes and, in a play like Communicating Doors, the results are fairly impressive.
So how come he's still an "also-ran"? Because, almost always, Ayckbourn's skill as a playwright greatly outstrips his depth. Scrape away the gimmicks and the comedy, and Ayckbourn is writing about, with absolutely no new insight, bad marriages.
Which brings up the Pittsburgh Public Theater production of Time of My Life, an Ayckbourn play with a weak gimmick and nonexistent laughs.
The setting is a restaurant, and upstage center we're celebrating the birthday of Laura Stratton, wife of Gerry and mother of Glyn and Adam. Soon we're downstage left for scenes of Glyn and his wife, Stephanie -- scenes set after the birthday party. Then, downstage right, we add scenes with Adam and his girlfriend, Maureen, which occur before the party. Meanwhile, one actor plays the many waiters serving these couples.
The initial toggling between these different "times" is mildly interesting. But ultimately, this gimmick goes absolutely no place. And one actor playing the waiters adds nothing except a bunch of broadly sketched cartoons instead of a single, fully rounded character.
While I adored the mother (her sublimely offhanded cruelty and constitutional rejection of maternal warmth are breathtaking), the sum total of this play is three couples who do nothing for two hours except talk about their relationships. After the first 15 minutes, nothing happens that you haven't seen in other plays and didn't see coming in this one.
This John Tillinger-directed production, featuring the electrifying precision of actors Paxton Whitehead and Ann McDonough, has much to recommend it. The same, unfortunately, can't be said of the script.
Time of My Life continues through May 16. Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org