In Alan Ayckbourn’s 21st Century comedy of manners, MY WONDERFUL DAY, the playwright explores the experience of a nine-year-old girl exposed to the adult world of the British middle class in dramatic AND hilarious fashion.
Winnie, a young Anglo-Caribbean girl, is a bit under-the-weather and accompanies her mother to work rather than go to school (single-mother Laverne cleans houses, on this day for British television celebrity Kevin and his wife, Paula). Laverne is nine-months pregnant, focused on her duties and has three basic instructions for Winnie: don’t get in the way or touch anything; practice French by speaking only that language all day; and finish a homework assignment: an essay describing “My Wonderful Day.” The small black girl who appears to only speak French becomes an “unseen” witness and unsuspecting confidante, as eccentric people and escalating events unfold around her.
In spite of a sense that the pay-off isn’t quite what it could be, the Two River Theater Company’s production brings the prolific Ayckbourn’s 73rd play to spirited life through the work of director Nicholas Martin, an energetic cast and a skilled design team.
Martin, one of the most accomplished directors working today, creates a fast-paced and insightful production that finds equal parts humor and sincerity at varying turns, and highlights the social commentary about class distinction without overdoing it. Cameron Anderson’s set brilliantly complements and reflects the tone of the work, aided by Philip Rosenberg’s effective lighting design and Dane Laffrey’s unassuming but appropriate costumes.
The cast is top-notch as well, led by the amazing Susan Heyward as Winnie. Her expressive eyes and pitch-perfect reactions make one forget that she has very little to actually say, and says much of that in French. Her physical characterization, her understanding of a nine-year-old’s behavior and her thoughtfulness in every action speaks volumes.
Surrounding her are a five comic types played with great energy and sharp timing. Kimberly Hébert Gregory is a locomotive speeding through Laverne’s workday and talkative nature, yet finds tenderness in this woman. Marc Vietor is engagingly imperious, self-involved and oblivious as Kevin. As Kevin’s daffy office mistress, Tiffany, Alison Cimmet takes a character you may have seen before and makes her fresh and endearing. Danielle Skraastad’s Paula is the picture of comedic bitterness and brings the action to a new level when she enters the fray.
A particular highlight of this talented company is Kevin Isola, playing Kevin’s office colleague, Josh. He brings a quirky charm and unforeseen pathos to a role (the overzealous young go-getter who thinks he is slicker than he is) that could easily be a one-note stereotype.
Despite the play’s abrupt and slightly unfulfilling conclusion, the production is sleek, smart and entertaining.
MY WONDERFUL DAY
by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Nicholas Martin
May 15 – June 3, 2012
Two River Theater Co.
21 Bridge Avenue
Red Bank, NJ