Given that Alan Ayckbourn has written 74 full-length plays, it stands to reason that his work has gone in many directions in the 52 years since his first was produced. He’s become best-known for comic theatrical tricks and gimmicks and for often focusing on dysfunctional marriages, as in 1999’s House and Garden currently visited by Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre. But, at Little Lake Theatre, you’ll experience something quite different, from the year before, a really very good, well-directed version of the play called Comic Potential, with performances equal to the professionalism of PICT.
This work has no special devices and not many deliberately comic lines and situations. Rather Ayckbourn thoroughly explores the potential for satire and philosophical themes, using what could be called science fiction, often a vehicle for comment on contemporary life. Also, he briefly, successfully mimics situation comedies and takes a few convincing turns toward melodrama.
Set in what Ayckbourn calls “the foreseeable future” he also says that that is “when everything has changed except human nature.” Here he follows along the possible permutation of what could develop and what could be inferred if modern science were to develop “actoids,” androids specifically designed to be actors in low-budget soap operas. Already you can see how such a concept can poke fingers at generic actors and generic programs, and at bottom-line producers who are indifferent to talent.
Idealistic young writer Adam Trainsmith visits a set where Chandler Tate, a former director of classic comedies, makes a living directing such soap operas. But some actoids start malfunctioning. One of them, a female, JC-F31-333, unpredictably starts laughing.
Adam, calling her “Jacie,” sees in her the potential for creating a new script evoking long-gone classic comedies. He also finds himself falling in love and they run away together. Here we could see a parallel to the idea of The Stepford Wives, Jacie programmed to be anything anybody else wants her to be. Also being sent-up are such ideas as people trying to contain and control human emotions. But I leave it to you to discover the many other themes Ayckbourn wonderfully satirizes and develops.
This production of Comic Potential features two exceptionally talented actors, Kate Neubert-Lechner as Jacie and Jason Dille as Adam. She, always able to suggest someone not completely human, still finds the many possible dimensions within that role. Dille has a charming sense of youthful vitality along with a great loose-limbed way of moving suggesting Dick Van Dyke. When both of them get into a dance routine, they are a delight to watch together. Neubert-Lechner, by the way, choreographed that.
In multiple supporting roles John McGovern, Bill Bennett and Charles Grant Carey also contribute to the polish and substance of this production. Given that this is an Ayckbourn script, director Sunny Disney Fitchett seems to have required English accents. She needn’t have done so; nothing in the story or its developments need accents, and, unfortunately, a couple of other supporting cast members sometimes make their words unintelligible. Disney Fitchett does do very well keeping the pace lively and the acting convincing. However, on the second night of the production, Dale Irvin’s playing of Chandler often seemed to be floundering for his lines, leaving clumsy, empty verbal spaces. The role could be played in several inventive ways, none of which he’d found yet. But, given that the character is more marginal than central to the story and to Ayckbourn’s many clever ideas, this in no way diminishes neither the admirable accomplishments of the playwright nor those of most of the cast and the company.
Comic Potential continues through July 23rd at Little Lake Theatre Company-500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg. 724/745-6300 www.littlelake.org