Off-Broadway Theater Review: CONFUSIONS (59E59Theaters)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 8, 2016

in Theater-New York


Watching members of the Stephen Joseph Theatre perform Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions under the playwright’s helmsmanship, I found myself mentally comparing the troupe to a team of Navy SEALs executing a mission with impeccable timing and precision. Performances are deft and subtle, with all five players demonstrating impressive range as each portrays a variety of characters. Getting what they need from the actor-oriented direction, the performers never utter a false note, and seeing them put their expertise to work is a joy in itself.


A brilliant trifle, Mr. Ayckbourn’s Confusions consists of five one-acts, some of which appear to be loosely connected by common characters; the thematic glue has to do with human interactions and the difficulty of getting what one wants from them. Lucy (Elizabeth Boag), a mother in the midst of a domestic whirlwind created by two small children and an absentee husband, gets a visit from Rosemary (Charlotte Harwood), a neighbor, and her husband Terry (Stephen Billington). When the couple quarrels, Lucy, who hasn’t taken off her pajamas in days and who’s domestic situation has evidently conditioned her to talk to everyone as though they were under the age of six, treats the neighbors like children, which, in an O. Henry sort of way, solves their problem.


From there we go to a hotel in a small English town, where travelling salesman and absentee husband Harry (Richard Stacey) tries to put the moves on a visiting young woman, getting very drunk in the process. We then find ourselves in a restaurant, where a waiter overhears two couples’ arguments concerning infidelity. There’s a fête hosted by Gosforth (Russell Dixon) which goes horribly, comically wrong.


And finally we find ourselves in a park, with four individuals occupying the four benches, when a fifth person comes along. He takes a seat next to a woman and starts talking her head off about loneliness. She eventually moves to the next bench over and starts complaining to the man sitting on it about the talker. Before long this man moves over to the next bench and starts complaining to its occupant about the woman who had joined him. And so on. The irony couldn’t be less subtle.


Mr. Ayckbourn has a keen ear for how people talk, for how they are, and his dialogue flows effortlessly. Yet he doesn’t take us very far with his insights. When the middle-aged salesman tries to seduce the young woman—buying her large drinks, telling her how excellent his room is, encouraging her to just come up and see it, without obligation—we recognize the interaction as being true to life. We’ve all been there. But the play doesn’t go beyond that. Nothing happens that challenges our expectations. Also, much of the writing feels dated and corny, like the setup to a joke whose punch line we know even if we’ve never heard it. To many in the audience this appeared not to be a drawback, as evidenced by their continual laughter. Confusions is an enjoyable show. I just prefer something a bit more substantial.


photos by Tony Bartholomew

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
in rep with Hero’s Welcome
part of Brits Off Broadway
59E59 Theaters
ends on July 3, 2016
for tickets, call 212.279.4200 or visit 59E59

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