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THEATER REVIEW: “Absurd Person Singular”

Addiction, suicide and the precarious nature of social class and status: what better subtexts for a Christmas party? You’ll see three, in fact, alternately hosted and attended over a two-year period, in Alan Ayckbourn’s “Absurd Person Singular,” playing through Dec. 7 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. Brian Salmon directs.

Ayckbourn, sometimes called the British Neil Simon, specializes in surface comedy with a lurking violent subtext, often the disintegration of one or more psyches, relationships or marriages. In this early play, the three couples undergo not only personal problems but economic reversals of fortune.

First up as hosts are property developer Sidney (Charles Peters), a moneymaking machine with limited social skills and his wife Jane (Susan Clausen), young, ditzy and eager to please.

Sidney wants help securing a loan from well-off, aging banker Ronald (Fred Harlow), who arrives with his charming but snobbish wife Marion (Teri Brown).

Completing the sextet are philandering architect Geoffrey (Jonathan Sachs) and his addict wife Eva (DaNae Steele). Eva, who notes “I’ve been taking pills of one sort or another since I was 8 years old,” seems willing to ingest or sniff anything handy.

“Absurd Person Singular” is mildly amusing, though Ayckbourn’s trademark class and social satire is less prominent, the comic elements more visual than in his later plays. For example, the comedy is set up in the first scene when Jane, having forgotten to buy tonic for drinks, trudges out the back door into a blinding downpour in a hopelessly low-class yellow slicker, hat and boots – and then can’t get back in.

Each couple suffers unwanted changes and/or betrayals, personal and professional in this drawing-room play where the action takes place in the kitchen.

In the best scene, one guest is cleaning a stove, another ineptly trying to fix an electrical problem and a third trying to commit suicide. This has great satiric possibilities, but as played it looks more like a British-accented sitcom than social comment. Still, it’s fun to watch.

The women fare better than the men, partly because their characters are more colorfully written. Clausen’s Jane, fussy and busy, contrasts with Brown’s classy (and you’d better notice it) Marion and Steele’s drugged-out Eva nicely. Peters’ Sidney doesn’t seem as much the insensitive social climber as he is said to be, but Sachs’ Geoffrey shows his grasping nature and Harlow just takes life as it comes.

Kudos to set designer Andy Scrimger, whose kitchens must be transformed from gleaming modern to sloppy trendy to modernized Victorian – and to his stage crew, who get the work done.

The details

“Absurd Person Singular” plays through Dec. 7 at the Legler Benbough Theatre, 9783 Avenue of Nations, off Pomerado Road in Scripps Ranch (on the campus of Alliant International University) in San Diego, California.

Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (858) 578-7728 or

HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.