By: Paulanne Simmons
Although we are told that Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions is composed of five interrelated plays connected through one of their characters, the truth is what really connects these one-acts in Ayckbourn’s delicious sense of the ridiculous.
In Mother Figure a harried housewife treats her next-door-neighbors as the children they are, while in Drinking Companion, her unfaithful, not very charming but increasingly inebriated traveling salesman husband tries to seduce two women in a rundown hotel. Between Mouthfuls contrasts two couples who bicker in a fancy restaurant, while an officious waiter tries to keep up appearances.
The fourth offering, Gosforth’s Fête, shows how a simple picnic can descend into chaos when youngsters are left unattended and no one knows the mic’s on. Finally, A Talk in the Park presents people at their most narcissistic, as individuals consecutively intrude on each other’s space.
Ayckbourn does a good job directed a talented and versatile cast: Elizabeth Boag, Charlotte Harwood, Stephen Billington, Richard Stacey, Russell Dixon. Having the author direct his own work gives the show a certain seamless quality. But one can’t help wondering what an extra set of eyes and ears might have done with Ayckbourn’s caustic wit.
In the two most engaging plays, Boag of Mother Figure turns the ridiculous into the sublime as a mother who can’t stop mothering, and Billington, the waiter in Between Mouthfuls, gains the sympathy of the audience with his sardonic observations and his obsequious attentions.
Although there is much humor in these five plays, Ayckbourn does not create a rosy picture of the world we live in. Indeed most of the people who inhabit his world are self-centered but not self-aware. The men are cheats. The women are shrill. They talk, but they do not listen.
At the end of A Talk in the Park, Ernest says, “Most of our lives are noise, aren’t they? Artificial man-made noise.” It’s when Ayckbourn makes some sense out of all that noise that Confusions is most effective.
Confusions runs in rep with Hero’s Welcome (also by Ayckbourn) through July 3,
59E59 Street Theaters www.59E59.org.