Jonathan J Miner
Erin S. Baal as Annie and Erik J. Hughes as Norman in Strollers Theatre's The Norman Conquests.
"Marriage is about sharing...and giving...and things."
Hapless playboy Norman's faltering definition of matrimony is the unwitting theme of Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy The Norman Conquests. This trilogy of plays is more than the sex farce it's billed as. It's a thoughtful exploration of marriage and family dynamics -- an exploration that just happens to be your-abs-will-hurt-the-next-day hilarious.
Ayckbourn's trilogy is composed of the plays Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden. The Strollers Theatre production, which runs through Feb. 12 at the Bartell Theatre and is directed by Jeff Knupp, presents all three in repertory.
The plays explore the events of a single weekend at a country house in England. Endearingly awkward Annie has planned to go away for the weekend with Norman, a bull in a china shop and the husband of her sister, cold and efficient Ruth. Annie's brother Reg and his high-strung wife Sarah come to care for the house while Annie is away, unaware of the real reason she's leaving. When Sarah learns of the affair, she becomes determined to pair Annie with her sweet-but-vacant neighbor Tom and save the family from collapse.
So often the flaw of bedroom farces is funny jokes delivered by despicable characters. The characters in The Norman Conquests are strangely loveable, even when behaving like children.
It helps that every actor is top notch. Erin S. Baal is enchanting as Annie, inhabiting the character from her ever-widening eyes down to her nervously shifting feet. Rebecca Raether gives a hilarious, then heartbreaking, performance as Sarah, and Megan Olive brings a sense of humanity to Ruth, a character who could have easily been an unlovable shrew.
Damon Butler is relatable as Reg, a beleaguered husband who is just trying to get along. Mark Huismann is believable as Tom, the sweet but simple-minded neighbor who may or may not be in love with Annie. Erik J. Hughes struggled a bit in his first scene as the sophomoric Norman, annoying not only the other characters, but the audience as well, but he redeemed himself later with some of the funniest bits in the play.
Each of the three plays in the trilogy present a different perspective on the same weekend. Table Manners, the part of the trilogy I saw Thursday night, takes place in the dining room. Friday's play, Living Together, takes place in the living room, and Saturday night's take place outdoors in Round and Round the Garden
The plays are meant to be seen independently or together, and in any order, though I thought the one weakness of Table Manners was a thinness of plot and an only half-resolved resolution, so seeing all three might be more satisfying.
If you see one part of the trilogy, save your ticket stub. It will get you $3 off tickets to the other shows.