CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
Time of My Life
Excellent cast makes most of muddled Ayckbourn play
by David A. Rosenberg
Hoping that lightning will strike twice in the same place, Westport Country Playhouse follows last
year's successful production of Alan Ayckbourn's "Relatively peaking" with another, later work. But
"Time of My Life" is not only mild where the other was wild, it's much less amusing. The old axiom
about lightning holds.
In fact, as it progresses, the evening becomes less and less funny and more and more vitriolic,
which is, on the surface, nothing to be exercised about. Ayckbourn, inexcusably and incorrectly
referred to as Britain's Neil Simon, has always been one to find shadows that sunlight can't expose.
But director John Tillinger's production doesn't balance the two moods, leaving the audience puzzled
in a negative way. Yes, authors often tickle us before they zap us. But, lacking an initial sense of
unease, the evening goes off the rails.
Ayckbourn is, once again, playing with time. At the start, we see a raucous, boozy dinner party in
honor of matriarch Laura's birthday. In attendance are her two sons, the philandering, unloved Glyn
and the nerdy, adored Adam. With Glyn is his long-suffering wife, Stephanie. With Adam is his ditsy
girlfriend, Maureen, whom hypercritical Laura belittles with, "Of all the women in the world, you have
to take up with a colorblind hairdresser."
Supposedly overseeing the clan is dad, Gerry, a properly befuddled Englishman, thrown for a loop
when confession time rolls around. Since the action takes place in a restaurant, they're served by a
waiter who, later, becomes several waiters of varying obsequiousness and snobbery.
This scene of present pleasantry soon gives way to flashbacks and flashforwards. In several quick
sketches stage right, Adam and Maureen go backwards to the past, from the affair they're having to
their first meeting. Interspersed, stage left, Stephanie and Glyn go forwards, into territory that
includes infidelity and even more dire events. Since we also flip to the present on occasion, we
eventually get a complete picture of a family's neuroses and predicaments.
All this is more complicated than complex. In such gems as "Absurd Person Singular," "Bedroom
Farce," "The Norman Conquests," "Comic Potential," "Communicating Doors," "How the Other Half
Loves" and "Private Fears in Public Places," Ayckbourn also exposes the pitfalls of marriage and the
consequences of adultery. But those works integrate time and theme.
Here, the chronology doesn't add to the "why," just the "what," muddying what the playwright finally
has to say about existence. "In life you get moments that you can identify as happy moments," says
one character. "Let's not miss out." The revelation seems inorganic, an afterthought, instead of rising
Fortunately, Tillinger has extracted excellent performances all around even if he can't lick the play's
tone. Many in the cast appeared in last season's "Relatively Speaking."
As Laura, Cecilia Hart is subtly nasty and cold, playing against the lines to create a character
whose selfishness oozes from every glance. As Gerry, Paxton Whitehead again proves that nobody
does sputtering and simmering better than he. His sudden coming to his senses at his wife's
revelations is a joy.
Seana Kofoed is a hoot as the upwardly mobile Maureen, while Geneva Carr transforms herself from
mousy to proud and independent with nuanced skill. As the sons, James Waterston is a
self-satisfied Glyn, his outward cruelty masking inner fears. As the high-strung, babied Adam,
Carson Elrod would probably chew his shoelaces if asked by mummy. Jason Antoon has an
attention-getting field day as the various waiters.
The production is handsome, from James Noone's restaurant setting to Rui Rita's lighting to Jane
Greenwood's costumes. Scott Killian's sound design and composition ease transitions while slyly
commenting on them and dialect coach Stephen Gabis has ensured that the actors don't slip their
Whatever its drawbacks, "Time of My Life" shows that even minor-key Ayckbourn is superior to
much else that's around. Westport ought to consider other works of his, taking care to find the
delicate balance his plays require.
(This review first appeared in The Hour, April 13, 2008)