The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


After the events we've lived through this month we all could benefit from a laugh or two.
Pittsburgh Public Theater supplies comedic therapy with its season opener -- Sir Alan Ayckbourn's highly amusing RolePlay.

While a storm rages outside, Justin Lazenby and his girlfriend Julie-Ann Lazenby are busily preparing for a meet-the-parents dinner to announce their engagement.

Hoping to make the evening a success, they have rearranged their lives and his apartment -- she's moved her belongings back to her old apartment, they've transformed a bedroom into a dining room, she instructs him to call her Julie Ann -- the name her parents prefer, rather than just Julie.

It all begins to go awry when a dessert fork goes missing. While Julie goes to buy a replacement, Justin's mom calls to say she's on her way but stopping at a pub for a drink. Then a scantily clad woman drops onto the apartment's balcony.

It's not long before chaos reigns. There's an escaping damsel in distress, the thug who's restraining her from leaving her very scary boyfriend, Julie's stridently jolly parents and Justin's highly inebriated mother.

The most outrageous moments of the evening belong to Meredith Zinner's Paige Petite and Mark Mineart's Micky Rale, her slow-witted keeper.


The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

We all play roles in life. But what if the roles become traps? How do we break free?

Breaking free, however, is what distinguishes comedy. And one of the characteristic distinctions (and difficulties) of English comic master Alan Ayckbourn is that he manages to combine the two, composing clever farce plots of misunderstanding and cross-purpose, then giving them a darker edge that justifies a wish-fulfilling break for freedom.

Not that any of this matters to the audience, which just settles back and takes the roller coaster ride of comic pleasure.

In this, they are happily conducted at the Public by a director and cast who are having a good time themselves. Director Ted Pappas revels in teasing out and shaping every comic morsel, and the cast delights in the exercise of technical expertise required.

The situation, which has conventional English sex farce written all over it, has Justin and Julie preparing a dinner party for their parents in his London Docklands flat, at which they will announce their engagement. Justin has never met her parents, Julie hasn't met his, and the potential in-laws have not met each other. With so much at stake, it is obviously a social catastrophe in the making -- even before the sudden drop-in arrival (literally) of a lap dancer pursued by the ex-boxer who is guarding her for his mobster boss.

You might almost chart the resulting plot developments yourself, but you could never craft the comic details of Ayckbourn's very efficient script. They are more than well exploited by a cast led by Meredith Zinner as the tough, charismatic Cockney dancer and Brian Hutchison as the nice young man who begins to see his life heading for a boredom more confining than the dancer's servitude.

Ross Bickell is a perfect comic monster as Julie's jolly bigoted father, and Cynthia Darlow is equally mind-bogging as his smug little wife. Suddenly, Tressa Glover's Julie, who initially seems just high-strung and compulsive, begins to appear as another monster in the making.

Providing a perfect foil is Mark Mineart's towering boxer, and the loose cannon of the evening is supplied by Jane Summerhays as Justin's mother, an alcohol-fueled tank oblivious to her own destructive capacity.

Picking out Pappas' contributions is hard. When Bickell gets maximum comic impact out of the single word "Canada" (playing on a prejudice that unites Americans and Brits), is it his genius, or Pappas'? The inspired sound of inarticulate off-stage speech is Ayckbourn's idea, but the actors bring it alive and Pappas conducts it perfectly. He also groups characters for maximum comic effect in the difficult thrust space. And he did the divine casting.

Pittsburgh is lucky that the Public Theater has apparently become one of the favored pumping stations, as a result of Ayckbourn's happy experience here in 2001 directing his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical By Jeeves. And Ayckbourn is lucky that Ted Pappas turns out to be a director so neatly fitted in skills and temperament to the Ayckbournian manner.