Table Manners (now in production at Little Fish Theatre), the first play of Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy, The Norman Conquests, is a six-character comedy that takes place entirely in the dining room. The other two plays are Living Together, which is set in the living room, and Round and Round the Garden, in the garden. The action of each play occurs in the same time frame. This astonishingly clever trilogy was written in 1973. The plays, which can be performed in any order, have been revived many times since and achieved multiple Tony awards in 2009 for the Old Vic’s production that was performed in rotating rep at The Circle in the Square.
Set in an English house in the country, Annie, a single woman who takes care of her invalid mother, has made plans to run off for a weekend holiday with a married man, Norman. It is not that she is wildly in love with him, but she is emotionally needy and the man she does care for, Tom, an awkward, shy veterinarian, doesn’t seem to be able to take the first steps toward a relationship. Annie’s brother, Reg, and his wife, Sarah, have come down to look after Mother, so Annie can have her little vacation. That notion gets scrubbed in the first five minutes, when Sarah learns that the tryst is with Norman. Things get even more bollixed up when Norman’s wife, Ruth, shows up. And, since Ruth is Annie and Reg’s sister, all of this is prime, convoluted comedy fodder with some touching moments tossed in to leaven the loaf.
The cast, under the direction of David Graham and Stephanie Coltrin, play the show with broad enthusiasm, milking the moments that are rife with opportunities for physical comedy, while making room for the occasional subtlety. Maire-Rose Pike makes a lovely Annie, a woman burdened by her demanding mother upstairs and yearning for real physical affection. Holly Baker-Kreiswirth’s Sarah is a brittle, take-charge type, who needs things to happen just-so, while her husband Reg (David Graham) is cheerfully oblivious, responding to Sarah’s demands with good-natured grumbling. Tom (Joel Bryant), who speaks in an amusing Scottish burr, is delightfully clueless. Watch for what he does with his coat. Ruth (Kimberly Patterson), is a high-powered, short-sighted type (she really can’t see without her glasses), who tolerates her husband, while Norman (Don Schlossman), an assistant librarian and a good-natured, happy-go-lucky guy, just wants to love and make love with women pretty much indiscriminately.
Little Fish Theatre’s theatre is ideally suited for this kind of play. Chris Beyries scenic design (with lighting by Stacey Adams) is a unit set with enough doors to make coming and going farcical. Costuming by Olivia Schlueter-Corey reinforce character and action. The sound design by Stephanie Coltrin for pre-show, scene changes and intermission music is delightful.
I would love to see this company mount the remaining two plays in The Norman Conquests.
Table Manners runs through May 21 in rep with The 39 Steps, which opens on April 28 at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro.