The program notes for Absurd Person Singular, the latest show by New Theatre Company, are ominous, and they seem to confirm rumors that've been circulating since before Bruce Coleman resigned as New Theatre artistic director to take a staff position at Theatre Three. It appears that after seven seasons, new co-directors Charlotte Akin and Jim Jorgensen are folding the company. Although they've made it sound more like a hiatus, the unofficial word seems to be that one of Dallas' most consistently high-quality producing entities of this decade is kaput.
Good news, then, that they're ending on a deliriously high note with Absurd Person Singular, the Alan Ayckbourn Christmas comedy that's more bitter than century-old cider. Still, this prancing theatrical contest of physical and verbal deftness just reminds us what theatergoers will be losing. The best compliment I can pay them is this: They're the only Dallas company I've ever seen get Ayckbourn right.
From the thunderingly uninspired (Dallas Theater Center's forays) to the embarrassingly inept (a mangy litter spawned throughout the '90s by Theatre Three), area productions seem to reinforce the notion that too many area directors and performers believe a lifetime of steady Channel 13 Sunday-night Britcoms is preparation enough to be funny in that nonplussed British style. As a result, they deliver the man's comedies as eager audience members, not unlike tiresome Monty Python fans who regale you with the troupe's naughtiest bits thinking that because they remember how funny it is, they can translate memory to delivery.
The sold-out Thursday-night audience laughed their asses off at New Theatre's Absurd Person Singular, whose three acts are set in three different kitchens on three consecutive Christmas holidays. We watch as two marriages crumble and one married couple, initially the most tense and the most socially and professionally "inferior" to the others, rises in gawky triumph. They are Sidney (Jim Jorgensen), a not very successful social climber, and Jane (Moira Wilson), who's quite the neat freak. This pair are in awe of banker Ronald (David Stroh) and his arrogant, let-me-have-another-snootful "social drinker" wife Marion (Cindee Mayfield), as well as architect Geoffrey (Martin Holden) and his depressive spouse Eva (Charlotte Akin). Although objects of condescension by the others, Sidney and Jane are oblivious to the fact that the lives of their social betters are falling to tatters in front of them. Marion is a raging alcoholic, Eva is suicidal, and all along the way there are gags about locked doors, vicious dogs, attempted hangings and self-electrocutions, and kitchen floors that just won't stay clean no matter how hard Jane tries.
The cast members of Absurd Person Singular play off one another and Ayckbourn's litany of comic devices -- from drunkenness to muteness -- with aplomb. David Stroh once again proves himself to be one of our city's most chameleonic actors; here, he's barely recognizable in gray hair and bugged eyes and Terry Thomas-type imperturbability. Cindee Mayfield once again proves she can blur the line between comedy and tragedy with a turn as dipsomaniac Marion, who makes us wince laughing at her because her disintegration seems so authentic.
And what of the Jorgensens, husband and wife Jim and Charlotte, who are probably retiring New Theatre with a fine string of live performances behind them? Jim hasn't always seemed comfortable in all the roles he plays, but his nebbish Sidney fits him like a tacky, glitter-sprinkled party hat. There's very little that Charlotte Akin can't do onstage, so she's making her final bow with predictable professionalism. Akin wonders in the aforementioned program notes if they should quit before they "wear out their welcome," and it's true that they cast show after show around themselves to the point of ubiquity. Still, it will be a bit of a shock for Dallas theater audiences, to go from seeing the Jorgensens everywhere to seeing them nowhere at all.
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