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Theater Review : 'Taking Steps': Madness Under Control

October 19, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Alan Ayckbourn has been called the Neil Simon of England.

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Well, they both can be very funny. But Ayckbourn takes another step. He's often cerebral. That means that he often asks the audience to use their minds, and their imaginations.

In a program note for the original production of "Taking Steps" at his own theater in Scarborough, England, Ayckbourn said, "This is, I hope, a play you can enjoy on several levels at once." He was being facetious.

There are three settings in the play: an attic, a bedroom and a lounge, and the connecting stairs and passageways. And the rooms occupy the same space, with action sometimes taking place in two or all three simultaneously.

The titular taking of steps is by the actors seeming to climb stairs, descend them and, once, even fall down them, while rushing from one room to the other, ignoring the characters in the other rooms, who actually are in the same room they are in, except they're on different floors. For Golden West College's production, Charles Davis' setting works efficiently on all its levels, even squeezed together.

Ayckbourn's conceit is an amazing piece of theatrical organization that is clear as a bell in operation. Simon doesn't have the typically British sort of mind that not only would be fascinated by this visual conundrum but would be interested in taking the effort Ayckbourn did to put it all together so beautifully.

Steven Paul Schwartz, who directs this stylish production, obviously does have a similar mind, along with other insights into the levers and cogs that tick-tock inside a British comedy. His timing and rapidly shifting rhythms are just right for Ayckbourn's madness.

*

The plot is negligible: A woman (Jennifer Severance) is about to flee the coop just as her husband (Steve Silva) is buying a country house. Her brother (Darren Zinzer) is staying at the house, waiting for his fiancee (Debbie Gerber), who isn't keen on their relationship. There's also the husband's gormless solicitor (Mark Krumme) and the leather-clad biker son (Steve Guerrero) of the home's previous owner.

It is a first-class farce, with mistaken identities, wrong overnight bed partners, all accomplished with the dead seriousness the genre requires.

Zinzer and Severance as the siblings have the lightness and crispness usually required of Noel Coward, and couldn't be better. Krumme is as obtuse as a British junior solicitor can be and manages to be funny even when he's not speaking. The tone of Silva's husband is a bit heavy-handed at times, without the froth that makes the others sparkle.

*

Except at the Sunday matinee, when other actors take the parts, Gerber is a sullen delight as the reluctant fiancee, and Guerrero, with excellent timing, is often quite funny, though his trying to make a juvenile Colonel Blimp of the biker seems odd--a simple wealthy, if slightly coarse, young sprout would better fit Ayckbourn's writing and probable intent.

* "Taking Steps," Stage West Studio Theatre, Golden West College, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends Sunday. $9. (714) 895-8378. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. Darren Zinzer: Mark

Jennifer Severance: Elizabeth

Mark Krumme: Tristam

Steve Silva: Roland

Steve Guerrero: Leslie Bainbridge

Debbie Gerber: Kitty

A Golden West College Fine Arts Division production of Alan Ayckbourn's comedy. Directed by Steven Paul Schwartz. Scenic design: Charles Davis. Lighting design: Jon Limbacher. Costume design: Susan Babb. Sound design: David Edwards.

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