Saturday, July 07, 2007

PLAY: "Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays"

Alan Ayckbourn has been criticized for not being the most substantive of playwrights, but has anybody ever stopped to consider how much fun his mindless comic romps can be? Ateh Theater Group's production of Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays isn't worried about anything more than entertainment and the glimmering hope of a happy ending, and because of that, its over-the-top ensemble takes empty characters and fills them with excitement.

Director Carlton Ward's greatest success is in transforming the saccharine of this children's play into the type of high-fructose corn syrup that's appealing to the twenty-something crowd looking for something different to do at 10:30 on a Friday night. Unlike the recently revived Intimate Exchanges, which changes each night, but in a predetermined way, Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays spends half its time establishing the farcical character, and then indulges in a live "Choose Your Own Adventure," where the audience can democratically choose where to send our brave hero, Suzy, and her chipper dog, Neville. (Our rowdy audience, high on life and drunk on booze, managed to kill them both, although our twin narrators were kind enough to give us a second chance.)

The play (like the majority of the "rooms" our characters explore in the mansion of the villainous, voice-stealing Mr. Accousticus) is rather empty, and as I'd mentioned previously, so are the characters. What fills the show, then, is the delightful emoting of the ensemble cast: as Ms. Passerby, Elizabeth Neptune can't just stumble drunkenly around, she has to roll down the "steps" of the chashama theater, into the audience. Ryan Tresser, as Mr. Accousticus, doesn't just have an overblown accent: his revealing costumes and drawn-out movements are larger than life, too. Madeleine Maby, the Mother, mispronounceceses her words with gusto and runs her house like a charming terror, and Suzy and Neville (Alexis Malone and Charley Layton) never miss a chance to castigate the audience with their eyes whenever we mistreat them. (Given a choice between "a room filled with toys" and a deep dark chute that "I wouldn't go down for any reason, ever," our masochistic audience chose the latter.)

The show works best as futurism: the actors squabble over who gets to play which role, the narrators (Sara Montgomery and Ben Wood) keep the show moving smoothly through the audience bits, and there are more than a few moments of laughter overtaking the actors. Plus, when has adding a British accent (to people who are clearly not British) ever not been funny? Everybody at Mr. A's ends up having a great time, from the cast and crew to audience too.

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