Jennifer Childs and Tony Lawton switch characters and pick up alternative storylines without missing a beat in INTIMATE EXCHANGES, 1812 Productions’ engaging 2014 FringeArts offering. The hook in Alan Ayckbourn’s inventive rom-com about failing and budding mid-life relationships in suburban London is that the play (or more accurately, the first volume of the playwright’s original two-volume work that is performed here) offers sixteen plot options and eight different endings. And for the first time in its production history, 1812 shines the spotlight on random members of the audience to decide spontaneously which path the characters should take as they reach a series of crossroads in their lives. All demonstrate the impact of the choices we make on our future happiness and ultimate destiny, and also leave us pondering the big question, “What if . . . ?” The only way to satisfy that curiosity is to see the show multiple times to explore the multitude of possibilities and outcomes, which seems only fair, since the demanding two-hander requires that its actors memorize eight hours of on-stage dialogue for all their potential scenes.
The opening night audience selected a sequence that I assume will be among the most popular of the run, featuring the ever-bickering spouses Celia and Toby Teasdale, their young housekeeper Sylvie Bell, hired gardener/jack-of-all-trades/classical music buff/besotted stalker Lionel Hepplewick, and Toby’s best friend Mile Coombs. Mary Carpenter directs the proceedings with well-tempered wit and pacing, as Childs and Lawton skillfully alter their British accents and demeanors to suit the ages, classes, and personalities of their changing roles, in distinctive wigs and costumes by Alison Roberts. Both actors display masterful comedic timing. Childs’ Celia is equally funny and sympathetic, stuck in an unhappy marriage to an acerbic drinker, then flattered by, but rightfully wary of, the smitten Lionel, who entices her with silly double entendres. Lawton is hilarious as he delivers Toby’s impassioned tirades and Lionel’s self-aggrandizing delusions. An impressive sound design by Michael Hahn includes an unseen but crystal clear conversation between Celia and Sylvie (with Childs quickly transitioning from one voice to the other), and Lance Kniskern’s scenic design of a quaint ivy-covered courtyard evokes the changing locales, from the Teasdales’ backyard to a hotel terrace to a church burial ground.
But what if . . . ? I’ll be back! [Arden Theatre, Arcadia Stage, 40 N. 2nd St.] August 28-September 21, 2014. www.1812productions.org.
Read Naomi Orwin’s review here.