The witty, surprising dialogue is as tangled and twisty, as continually knotting and unfurling, as a ball of wool between the paws of a kitten. Nothing sounds serious, though there’s a whisper of something darker underlying the action, an acknowledgment of the anger and misunderstanding that underlie many marriages, a profound, even gleeful cynicism about the remotest possibility of honest relationships. This is Relatively Speaking, written in the 1960s and the first breakout hit of famed English comic playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Though the play, currently receiving a workmanlike, and sometimes better, production at Germinal Stage, is an early one, it already shows signs of Ayckbourn’s talent: It’s tightly and cleverly constructed, and periodically sounds like an inspired combination of P.G. Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde.
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The first scene features a young couple, Greg and Ginny. They’re somewhat broke but getting by, and Ginny’s about to go for a visit with her parents in the country — or so she says. Greg is a little confused by the fact that she doesn’t want him to go with her. He also can’t quite understand why flowers and candy keep arriving at the flat, or what a pair of plaid slippers is doing under the bed. But he’s in love and has proposed, and, Ginny having carelessly left the address lying around, he decides to take the train to her parents’ house, to meet them and surprise her. Her train is delayed, and he arrives ahead of her. Alas, Philip and Sheila aren’t Ginny’s parents at all: Philip is her ex-boss, the older lover she’s now decided to ditch. Misunderstandings multiply and insanely funny sequences follow. Somehow Greg gives Philip the impression that his wife has dallied with several lovers in the past, including a very young one and a fellow in his nineties. Sheila is welcoming and kindly, but completely flummoxed by comments about a daughter she’s never had. It’s clear that Philip and Sheila’s marriage is empty, and you can’t hold much hope for the union of innocent Greg and minxy Ginny.
The production is well staged by Ed Baierlein, but it occasionally lacks the required wit, bite and energy. Both Ben Hilzer as Greg and Samara Bridwell as Ginny seem to be paying more attention to their English accents than to the essence of their characters — or even to having fun on stage. I’d like to see performances more free, playful and sincere here, and get a sense that, for all their absurdity, these are real people: Greg earnestly in love, Ginny perhaps enjoying her own duplicity and flirtatiousness just a little. Still, in an effectively understated performance, Randy Diamon gives us a huffing, stuffy, baffled and enraged Philip. And Erica Sarzin-Borrillo is the best reason of all — besides the chance to experience early Ayckbourn — to see this production. She gives herself wholeheartedly to every moment she’s on the stage, and her Sheila manages to be simultaneously opaque and completely open. Most of the time she’s kindly and befuddled, but every now and then there’s a sharpness in her dark eyes that tells you never to underestimate this apparently baffled soul.
Relatively Speaking, presented by Germinal Stage through September 20, 73rd Avenue Playhouse, 7287 Lowell Boulevard, Westminster, 303-455-7108, germinalstage.com.