KPBS AIRDATE: April 19, 1995
There’s time and there’s no time. Temporal play and word-play abound in two very different theatrical ventures: Alan Ayckbourn’s “Time of My Life” at the Old Globe, and Eric Ehn’s “No Time Like the Present” at Sledgehammer Theatre. Each production has a malleable sense of chronology, boomeranging between past and present, posing uncomfortable questions about the future.
In “Time of My Life,” Ayckbourn, the clown prince of Britain, is not at his most acerbic. In this serio-comedy, his 44th play, things start off nicely enough, at a pleasant restaurant of indeterminate ethnicity, where the family has gathered to celebrate Mom’s birthday. The dilettante favorite son is introducing yet another déclassé girlfriend to the family, while his older, family-business brother has just reunited with his wife after straying once again from his nuptial responsibilities.
Nothing, of course, is what it seems. Serious family dysfunction is always just beneath the surface. Dad’s been keeping the business afloat in surreptitious ways; Mom’s got a pretty dastardly secret of her own; the sons can barely breathe without their monstrous mother’s approval; and the low-class girlfriend winds up tossing her cookies in the men’s room.
For the rest of our evening, we get the before, during and after-events of their evening, all taking place in the same restaurant, at various points in time, with each dinner party being served by an outlandish member of the restaurant family, all played by one actor.
It’s clever, as Ayckbourn always is. But it does go on. There are at least four scenes that would’ve made neat little endings. Sometimes the playwright just doesn’t know when to stop. But the director—Craig Noel—seems to be having the time of his life, with a delicious cast and a superb pace for the proceedings.
Also properly paced is Sledgehammer’s “No Time Like the Present.” But this isn’t a languorous unfolding of a story; it’s at director Scott Feldsher’s usual neck-snapping speed. And as for the story; well, it’s pretty hard to identify or unravel. Eric Ehn’s plays tend toward the dark, dense, complex and opaque, with more than a dollop of Catholic dogma and drama. Be sure to read the program notes first, so you have at least a vague inkling of what’s going on.
“No Time Like the Present” is like no time you’ve spent in the theater recently. There are three competing, non-linear plots of a sort. There’s Emily making her way home from college to visit her newly-separated parents, who have a hotel-tryst while they await her arrival.
Meanwhile, her father’s right hand plays five drunken sailors who head for the closets of the apocalypse, following a saint disguised as a fish. Periodically, on five TV monitors and a neck-craning wall-projection, we’re exposed to the musings of the last living physicist, and the prayers of a woman working through the five Christian mysteries. Oh, and did I mention that a series of atomic disasters has changed the speed of light and disrupted the laws of physics? Did I omit the play’s subtitle: “A Rosary to Mary Frankenstein on the Occasion of the Rapture”? Never mind. You won’t figure it all out anyway.
What you need to do here—if you choose to do it at all—is just to sit back and take it in. Director Feldsher has created some of his most breath-stopping stage pictures, ably abetted by ace sound-man Jeff Ladman and an agile cast. This production will undoubtedly assault your senses; it might even tickle your funny bone. Though you may not get it all, though you may not be emotionally affected, you will certainly feel Sledgehammered. And sometimes a blow to the brain can really wake you up.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.