Theatre Information

Constellation Theatre Company Taking Steps

By • Sep 11th, 2012 • Category: Reviews, Washington DC
Taking Steps
Constellation Theatre Company
Source Theatre, Washington DC
Through October 7th
$20-$45 plus fees
Reviewed September 8th, 2012

One of the things I like most about live theatre is its ability to teach and engender conversation as well as entertain. My favorite feeling in the world is being completely emotionally drained after an enthralling dramatic performance. Given my personal preference for heart-wrenching drama, I do tend to forget that sometimes theatre is meant to be nothing but fun. The British are masters of that glorious form of theatre known as farce — full of flapping doors, mistaken identities, and people caught in compromising positions all for the express purpose of delighting an audience. Playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s Taking Steps is one such piece — a fabulous farce that is entertaining from beginning to end, and Constellation Theatre’s production of this hilarious romp is thoroughly imaginative, brilliantly staged, and funny as all get-out!

Set in a large old house in the English countryside, Taking Steps tells the story of Elizabeth (Tia Shearer), a dancer unhappy in her marriage to Roland (Matthew R. Wilson), a wealthy bucket tycoon (that’s right — buckets) who is planning to buy the property from current owner Leslie (Doug Wilder). Thrown into the mix are Elizabeth’s brother Mark (Dylan Myers), who is trying to save his marriage to the flighty Kitty (Megan Graves), and real estate solicitor Tristram (Matthew McGee), whose social anxiety makes him afraid of his own shadow. Hilarity abounds as wives try to leave dreary husbands and landlords try to wrangle contract signatures out of drunken tenants — all while not knowing that the others are also in the house.

The actors all hold their own and the cast performs wonderfully together as an ensemble. Matthew McGee as the nervous Tristram is particularly enjoyable — he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand from his very first entrance. Not to advocate alcoholism at all, but Matthew R. Wilson’s pompous Roland got funnier and funnier the more the character drank — it was clearly a well-studied and well-executed performance. Tia Shearer as the long-suffering Elizabeth was at times a little too over-the-top for my tastes, but she brought a unique vitality and humor to the character that made me a definite fan of hers by show’s end.

What is most striking about this show is its staging. Ayckbourn began his career writing plays to be presented in the round and director Allison Arkell Stockman has honored this quite reverently. I’m always fascinated by non-traditional playing spaces, so this production’s set had me giddy from the moment I entered the tiny theatre. Although the play’s scenes take place on three different floors of the house, the rooms are laid out on the same plane surrounded by the audience. On both of the long sides of the elliptical stage, there are runways representing staircases complete with banisters skewed to a steep angle. I must admit that when I first saw these, I thought it would be a ridiculous disaster. Happily, I was proved wrong. The ways in which each actor leaned into the odd angle of these “staircases” not only effectively communicated the character’s motivation — they also ingeniously sold the illusion of a three-story house. These non-traditional spaces often ask a lot of audience’s imaginations, but Ms. Stockman’s graceful and precise staging conveyed the sense of a real space clearly evident to even the least imaginative audience member. I cannot give enough praise to Ms. Stockman and scenic designer A.J. Guban for the sheer brilliance of this design.

With a running time of approximately two hours and forty minutes, Taking Steps is a delightful evening of light theatre guaranteed to satisfy. I would not recommend this show for little ones for two reasons. Although the material is never more vulgar than “questionable” (think light PG-13), much of the refreshing wit so often absent from farces will go over kids’ heads and, like I said, it’s long. That said — young teens and up will love this hysterically funny show as well as Constellation Theatre’s unique and fantastic staging.

Director’s Notes

Taking Steps is a joyful way to jump into our next season. Celebrated playwright Alan Ayckbourn gives us a ridiculous comedy about six quirky Brits and their madcap adventures in a three-story Victorian home. As you step into the theatre, you enter a haunted, former brothel; since no two seats have the same view of the stage, you gain your own unique perspective on the world of the play.

Although most farces historically revolve around people slamming doors and jumping out of windows, this particular farce has neither. Onstage you will see three floors of a house connected by two flights of stairs, yet everything is performed on the same plane. With this distinctive architecture, Ayckbourn invites you to see all the action taking place at once while leaving his own characters in the dark.

Ayckbourn’s witty way with words is on display from the start, as is his gift for creating comic misunderstandings. He takes joy in setting up ridiculous circumstances that lead to prime opportunities for physical comedy. As the characters cross paths, sometimes nearly colliding, a mix of precise and spontaneous events drives the hilarious plot.

Yet despite their extraordinary circumstances, Ayckbourn’s characters are real people who are invested in their dreams and defeated by their fears. They all struggle with communication; we see in them the human tendencies to hold back from speaking hard truths, and to not truly listen, even to our loved ones. The play urges us to be open and honest in our own lives, to have the courage to identify our true dreams and to pursue them.

Taking Steps is a comedy with great heart. The multiple levels, presented together in the round, remind us that at any given time, we are only aware of our small part in the larger world. There is always more going on that meets the eye.

Enjoy the show!

Allison Arkell Stockman, Founding Artistic Director

Photo Gallery

Tia Shearer Matthew McGee
Tia Shearer
Matthew McGee
Matthew R. Wilson, Matthew McGee, Dylan Myers Matthew R. Wilson and Tia Shearer
Matthew R. Wilson, Matthew McGee, Dylan Myers
Matthew R. Wilson and Tia Shearer
Tia Shearer
Tia Shearer

Photos by Andrew Propp

The Cast

  • Elizabeth: Tia Shearer
  • Mark: Dylan Myers
  • Tristram: Matthew McGee
  • Roland: Matthew R. Wilson
  • Leslie: Doug Wilder
  • Kitty: Megan Graves

The Creative Team

  • Director: Allison Arkell Stockman
  • Assistant Director: Ashley Ivey
  • Scenic Designer: A.J. Guban
  • Lighting Designer: Cory Ryan Frank
  • Technical Director: Jason Krznarich
  • Sound Designer: Brendon Vierra
  • Properties Designer: Kevin Laughon
  • Costume Designer: Kendra Rai
  • Fight Choreographer: Matthew R. Wilson
  • Production/Stage Manager: Cheryl Ann Gnerlich

Disclaimer: Constellation Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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