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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at 59E59


  Ruth Gibson and Terence Booth/ Ph: Robert Day

If you were among the throngs who lapped up Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests trilogy last season, then you’re a good candidate for his latest – his 73rd! – play. My Wonderful Day similarly hinges on the concupiscence of a feckless husband and the murderous fury felt by his wronged wife. If, however, such a trope strikes you as material more suitable to tragedy than farce, you’re in for a relatively mirthless slog – all the more so if you prefer to see children spared the unsettling sight of grown-ups’ shenanigans.
At least no child actors were disabused of their innocence during this production, imported intact, under the playwright’s own direction, from his Yorkshire home base, the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Ayesha Antoine, the extraordinary actress who plays eight-year-old Winnie, through whose eyes we observe a concatenation of marital betrayals and reprisals, is fully two decades older, and yet 100 percent convincing as a child. Forgoing the brash antsiness that most actors telegraph to indicate youth, Antoine chooses instead to go recessive and subdued. Her interpretation also suits the role. Winnie is an observer - an incipient writer, perhaps. While accompanying her abundantly pregnant mother (sunny Petra Letang) on her rounds as a char, Winnie scribbles away at a homework assignment, an essay on the title theme.
Age-appropriate as she manages to be, Antoine also projects a wounded quality. Winnie – whose own father has recently decamped – resembles one of those children who seem already to have seen too much. Thus it’s perplexing when adult strangers go all kitchy-coo the minute they set eyes on her. Not “The Man” (Terence Booth), the rudely brusk infomercial titan whose fancy apartment this is. (Roger Glossop’s minimalist set, essentially limited to Levolor blinds and a statementy couch, leaves virtually all to the imagination.) However, his assistant-slash-paramour Tiffany (Ruth Gibson), a public-school twit, gushes to an extreme upon meeting Winnie, as does beta-male buddy Josh (Paul Kemp). Winnie responds so little in return (partly because, as part of her mother’s self-improvement plan, it’s their day to speak French) that the adults babble to fill the void, thereby turning her into an ipso facto confessor figure.
Yes, there is humor to be gleaned here, but also a high degree of discomfort for observers whose own childhoods may have been marred by being thrust, prematurely, into awareness of matters best left to the adult realm  – and isn’t that all of us, ultimately? Tiffany revealing her loneliness, Josh breaking down at the loss (through divorce) of his own little girl – in these skilled actors’ hands, these moments are gifts that bespeak an admirable empathy on the author’s part. A supposedly comic in-flagrante smackdown and a bloody instance of errant spousal abuse? (The Man’s wife, appealingly played by Alexandra Mathie, has anger-management issues.) Not exactly sensitive, especially with a child posed opportunistically as witness, and really, not so funny. 


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