January 18, 2003
“Absurd” Comedy Serves Serious Laughs


The Blue Slipper Theater’s latest offering, “Absurd Person Singular” by contemporary British writer Sir Alan Ayckbourn, is an offbeat, over-the-top, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes scathing satire on the British class system and the marriages within it.

The story lights on three consecutive Christmas Eves, each in a different household of three couples. In the first, middle class general store owners Sidney and Jane Hopcroft are hosting a party to impress the upper-crust banker, Ronald Brewster-Wright (Scott Black), his wife Marion (Gillian Swanson), and their friends Geoffrey and Eva Jackson (Jason Moreland, Deb Corbett) in the hopes of securing a loan and expanding their business. The following Christmases show Geoffrey’s adultery, Eva’s attempted suicide, and Marion’s slide into alcoholism as business failures force Ronald to become dependent upon his largest depositor—the despised bourgeois Sidney.

This is a very long play, topping out at about three hours on opening night. The first act was slow, especially the first fifteen minutes, which didn’t have much dialogue, almost no humor, and little physical action. The second and third acts, though, blew by in a whirl of comedy and tragedy, overlapping the decadent breakdowns of the highbrow couples against the cheery, naďve industriousness of the Hopcrofts. The true shining moments of the play come from the witty, often racy dialogue between the men and the flawless drunken physical comedy and perfect timing of Gillian Swanson.

“The meaning (of the play) is the reversals you see in life, plus the difficulties of marriage,” said director Gary Fish. “(It’s) crazy, difficult to act, difficult to direct, (but) in some respects it’s informative. You get a feeling for the British (life.)”

In an interesting chance, Fish saw a book about the staging of Ayckbourn’s plays which featured a round setting (meaning the audience is seated in a semi circle, creating the stage) which featured minimalist black-and-white sets, a concept that Fish considered perfect for the Slipper’s small stage. The effect draws the audience into the kitchens of the couples and forces their attention onto the vibrant characters in contrast to the simple set, which underscores the point of the play—the individual people alone in their small worlds and small marriages.

This was a very experienced cast, according to Fish, which made it possible to produce a complicated character-driven play in six short weeks. Despite some unevenness in the accents at the beginning and some sluggishness in the first act, “Absurd Person Singular” is as compelling and emotional as it is funny and entertaining. It was a beautifully delivered treat, worth every minute to see, and when the curtain falls, it leaves you wanting more.

For ticket information, contact the Blue Slipper box office, 222-7720.