Review: 'The Time of my Life' puts the fun in dysfunction

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"The Time of my Life" by Alan Ayckbourn is a deep dive into the lives of an outwardly happy upper middle class family. We first meet the Strattons at Laura's 54th birthday dinner, organized by her confident and charming husband, Gerry. In an ironic toast, the successful real estate developer urges everyone at the table to appreciate the family's "happy times."

Happy times are in short supply as all the relationships unfurl in flashbacks and flashforwards from the birthday dinner. Older son Glenn and his wife Stephanie are giving their marriage another try after a separation triggered by his infidelity. Younger son Adam, an engaging dreamer, has brought his new girlfriend Maureen, a goodhearted but insecure hairdresser judged unsuitable by his mother. And even Gerry and Laura's long marriage is shaken by a revelation that emerges after a few too many drinks.

Under Sam Pilo's able direction, the cast delivers compelling performances. Laura Stratton drives the narrative as the outspoken, narcissistic yet ultimately vulnerable matriarch, and Mo Hart does a superb job of conveying her character's feigned interest in others and condescension for those beneath her on the social ladder. Bruce Holloway is perfectly cast as the gregarious Gerry, whose bonhomie masks his business difficulties. Sadie Fischesser is convincing as Glenn's long-suffering wife Stephanie, who finally declares independence from her unreliable spouse.

Although Ayckbourn's script zooms backwards and forwards in time, the setting, an Italian restaurant, never changes. "We always seem to come to this restaurant, anniversaries, birthdays - I don't know why," says Gerry. By the time the second act rolls around, one wishes the Stratton family could somehow escape this eatery. But despite mediocre food and exasperating service the setting does provide great comic relief in the person of the manic maitre d' Tuto. The rubber-faced Sherman Morrison brilliantly inhabits this role in the style of John Cleese's character Basil Fawlty. Bouncing between irrational exuberance and outright petulance, Morrison draws laughs everytime he steps on stage.

Heather Martell and Tyler Strickland deserve special praise for their depictions of Maureen and Adam, whose awkward romance provides some of the play's most touching moments. Heather's performance strikes just the right notes of pride, affection, vulnerability and anger. Tyler's Adam Stratton is a thoughtful, sincere yet painfully unfocused young man who pretends not to live in the shadow of his powerful parents.

The Time of My Life continues at the Actors Theatre Playhouse, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through Sunday, Sept. 28. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Reservations are suggested via the toll-free box office at 877-666-1855. All tickets are $15 for general admission. More info at www.atplayhouse.org

Rick Cowan is a frequent Reformer contributor. He serves on the board of Main Street Arts in Saxtons River.

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