“Travels With My Aunt,” Saturday night, Oct. 25, Interplayers Ensemble
The concept behind this stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s “Travels With My Aunt” is undeniably clever.
Four men, each wearing identical grey Harris tweed jackets and conservative red ties, appear simultaneously at opening curtain. All of them are playing the mousy London banker, Henry Pulling. They trade lines back and forth, finishing sentences for each other.
Soon, however, first one and then another takes on the voices of the other characters - including the wild and wonderful Aunt Augusta, who leads Pulling into danger in Paris, Istanbul and Paraguay. By play’s end, one actor has played 10 different characters. Yet they remain in their grey tweed jackets, becoming the characters only through subtle changes in voice and body language.
This device, dreamed up by Giles Havergal, who adapted Greene’s comic novel, is an inspired way to represent Pulling’s perspective as narrator and Greene’s perspective as novelist. All of the characters exist solely through the eyes of the teller of the tale.
Yet this device is also responsible for this play’s ultimate lack of spark. It comes off as reader’s theater, or like one of those long books-on-tape that you stick in the tape deck in Ritzville, and by Moses Lake your mind has drifted away. By the end, you feel as if you’ve been on a long drive to nowhere in particular.
This is not a problem caused by either the director or the actors. In fact, I can’t see how director Michael Weaver could have made any better decisions. For instance, he did not allow the actors to use Monty-Python falsettos when playing the female characters. Aunt Augusta speaks in David Heath’s normal voice, with her age and gender suggested subtly and effectively. One brief lapse, a high-pitched girl in a cafe, serves only to make us grateful that Weaver did not go overboard with the voices.
Weaver also solves the play’s two biggest problems gracefully. He gives us smooth signals, through almost imperceptible pauses and segues, when the actors are switching from character to character. And he manages to keep the play in a state of constant motion, which is no small feat in a play that might as well have been written for four actors sitting on a panel.
These four actors are uniformly good. Heath rises to the task of playing both Pulling and Aunt Augusta, sometimes in the same scene. J. Bretton Truett makes perhaps the most believable Pulling, as well as a flakey hippie chick, Tooley, and a bluff and world-weary CIA agent, O’Toole.
Richard R. Hamblin is also a credible Pulling, and he pulls off the best character performance of the evening, as his aunt’s West Indian companion (or love slave?), Wordsworth. Gary Pierce’s talents are used to great effect in small comedy bits, including an energetic sequence as an extremely affectionate dog.
This should all add up to something funnier and more compelling than it does. The fault lies with the adaptation, which tells the story rather than shows it. Sure, it’s clever to have Pulling (Heath) portraying Aunt Augusta, but soon we want more than anything else to see Aunt Augusta, to meet her in the flesh. We come away as if we have only heard about Augusta, only heard about Istanbul, only heard about Paraguay.
Compounding the problem is that Greene’s story lacks a strong narrative line, especially in the first act. Events seem to happen aimlessly, until finally, thank goodness, the characters get on the Orient Express and actually go somewhere. The second act is more focused, but for me at least, it was too little, too late. , DataTimes MEMO: “Travels With My Aunt” continues through Nov. 15, with curtain times at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday, Wednesday and Nov. 1. Tickets are $13.25 for matinees; and $16.60 and $14.35 for all other performances, Call 455-PLAY for tickets and reservations. Interplayers is at 174 S. Howard.