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‘Taking Steps’ provides clever twists on many levels

Wed., May 9, 2012

Interplayers Professional Resident Theatre serves up another solid production with Alan Ayckbourn’s “Taking Steps.” The British comedy is deliberately crafted and features effective performances by its six-person cast.

While the play is labeled a farce, it’s not a fast-paced romp. “Taking Steps” doles out its humor in measured doses. Director Rodger D. Sorensen clearly shaped every moment, from the awkward pauses to silly antics.

The deliberate pace makes the play run nearly three hours, and some moments feel milked. Audiences will be delighted, however, by Ayckbourn’s clever twists and turns of phrase, and the strong acting. “Fishing is transcendental meditation with an end product,” one character says.

The setting is a three-story manor house in the English countryside, but Ayckbourn requires all the floors to be staged on one level, a unique convention. The set design by Jason Laws feels crowded, yet the actors maneuver around the furniture and each other with ease.

The convention takes a bit of getting used to as an audience member, as one concentrates in order to keep track of when characters are upstairs or downstairs and who is in a room with whom. But that is part of the fun.

The situation is this: Elizabeth Crabbe (Chasity Kohlman) plans to leave her husband, Roland (Reed McColm) because she is a “dancer” and wants her freedom. Throughout the play, Roland, who is unaware of his wife’s intentions, negotiates with the landlord to buy the house. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s brother, his fiancée and a lawyer are stuck in the middle.

Christopher Lamb, as junior attorney Tristram Watson, steals every scene he’s in, whether he’s talking or sitting still. His small frame, tiny curled mustache, “vacuous” expression and vulnerability make him a joy to watch. In addition, the poor man can’t spit out a coherent sentence, saying “yes” and “sorry” a lot.

He finds his soul mate in socially inept Kitty (Tristan Canfield). She can’t utter a sentence either and gets stuck in a closet for quite a while.

McColm proves he is the master of reactions with his portrayal of the jilted husband. His responses to hearing that his wife is leaving him and that she later spent the night with another man – unwittingly – are amusing. He knows just when to pause and for how long.

Rounding out the ensemble is Dan Anderson, who plays Elizabeth’s high-strung brother who puts people to sleep when he talks, even himself, and Jeffrey Sanders, who plays the affable landlord. He towers over everyone else, especially when he’s wearing his motorcycle gear, which includes an enormous helmet.

Not all of the situations Ayckbourn creates for his characters are as uproarious as one would expect. In one bit, for example, two men think Crabbe tried to kill himself with pills then march him around the living room singing to keep him awake. The performances are fine, but the situation just isn’t as clever as the playwright can be.

The charm of “Taking Steps,” though, is its reliance on character reactions and comic details. Who would have thought that watching how each character moves along flattened stairs would be so entertaining?

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