The Norman Conquests: Table Manners is an entertaining production due to Kelly’s attention to detail

Reviewed by Iris Winston

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah Photo by David Whiteley

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah
Photo by David Whiteley

Six characters. One weekend. Three views of the shifting perspectives of two unhappy married couples and two lonely singles reacting to each other in three different parts of the same property (the dining room, the living room and the backyard).

Alan Ayckbourn, who wrote the trilogy of comedies comprising The Norman Conquests in one week in May 1973, says that each of the group stands alone and may be seen in any order (though each of the three should be seen first!)

An ambitious project for playwright, director, cast and crew, The Norman Conquests has been well received almost every time it has been presented during the 40+ years since Ayckbourn wrote the three plays simultaneously and in parallel. By, for example, writing the second scene of each of the comedies at the same time, he could refer in the segment set in the dining room to the amount of alcohol being consumed in the living room and its effects on the title character.

Table Manners, which opens the Seven Thirty Productions/Plosive Productions co-pro of The Norman Conquests, heads towards a nightmarish family dinner delivering sniping and discontent as the main course. So horrible are the relationships that you have to laugh or be swept away with the underlying misery.

Director John P. Kelly and his cast deliver on interesting stage business and well-defined characterizations to present the three siblings in their mother’s home, together with their partners. Annie (Michelle LeBlanc) the unmarried sister cares for her difficult, invalid mother (an unseen reminder of one of the difficult aspects of her life). Another is her sort-of boyfriend, Tom (David Whiteley), a veterinarian, apparently incapable of declaring his intentions towards Annie, despite prompting from the rest of the group.

Annie’s brother Reg (Steve Martin) an unsuccessful realtor with a hearty appetite, and his control-freak wife, Sarah (Margo MacDonald) arrive to care for mother so that Annie can go away for the weekend.

Meanwhile, Norman (Al Connors), their brother-in-law, a librarian with a capital L libido but non-hunk exterior, arrives to complete his mission of seduction. To thwart his intent, organizer Sarah summons his wife, Ruth (Julie le Gal), a myopic, workaholic career woman and sister to Annie and Reg.

This comedy, featuring a collection of deeply flawed and unhappy characters, could touch on tragedy were it not for Kelly’s skillful directing that keeps the negative just below the surface and magnifies the comic—along with Norman’s oversize spectacles and wide-eyed delight at the prospect of sexual conquest.

Kelly’s attention to detail is noteworthy. For instance, the contrasting attitudes of Annie and Sarah are clearly established when Annie dumps flowers in a vase (having sipped the flower water first) and Sarah carefully rearranges them, followed by Annie disarranging them when Sarah’s back is turned.

Table Manners is quite entertaining, but Living Together and Round and Round the Garden promise to tell more of Norman’s conquests and the sad but amusing members of his dysfunctional family.

Table Manners: August 28 to September 5 and in repertory September 30 to October 10.

Living Together: September 11 to 19 and in rep October 1 to 10.

Round and Round the Garden: September 25 and 26 and in rep September 29 to October 10.

All three shows play on October 10.

 

The Norman Conquests

By Alan Ayckbourn

Co-produced by Seven Thirty Productions and Plosive Productions at The Gladstone

 

Director: John P. Kelly

Asst. director: Nicolas Alain

Set and lighting: David Magladry

Sound: Steven Lafond

Costumes: Vanessa Imeson

 

Cast:

Norman………………………………………………………AL Connors

Annie…………………………………………………………Michelle LeBlanc

Ruth…………………………………………………………..Julie Le Gal

Sarah………………………………………………………….Margo MacDonald

Reg……………………………………………………………Steve Martin

Tom……………………………………………………………David Whiteley


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