by Willard Manus
The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble seems to do an Alan Ayckbourn play every year, and 2009 is no different. This time out the company caught up with the famed British playwright's 23rd play, TAKING STEPS, which was first produced in 1979. It's typically Ayckbourn in the way it toys with space and/or time, mixes realism with farce, deals with people's flaws and follies in a light, playful way.
TAKING STEPS is set in The Pines, an English manor where Elizabeth (Melanie Lora) and her husband Roland (Marty Ryan) live in uneasy cohabitation. Lizzie, as she proudly states (and demonstrates with exaggerated leg kicks and pirouettes), is a dancer who feels trapped by marriage. When the play opens she is filling her brother Mark's (Andy Hoff) ears with her marital woes.
Mark's got his own problems with the opposite sex, having hooked up with a sexy but far-out girl, Kitty (Kate Rylie) whose punk values clash with his conservative nature. Also caught up in the flow are Tristam (Jonathan Runyon), a well-meaning but slightly spacey young lawyer, and Leslie (Bernard White), the Harley-riding owner of the manor who shows up to collect the rent.
The manor itself is, like most Ayckbourn sets, an integral character in the play. It contains an attic room (and adjoining toilet), a bedroom, a living room and connecting stairs and passageways. In most Ayckbourn plays, there'd be an all-in-one, multi-level microcosm of the house; this time around, though, the playwright has come up with a fiendishly clever and original device. Each time a character must go up or down the stairs, he bends at the knee and makes like Groucho while miming the action. The plot is just as clever and funny, taking such ingredients as mistaken identity, befuddled thinking and bad behavior, and whipping them up into a frothy, tasty melange.
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. (310) 477-2055 or odysseytheatre.com