By Bridgette M. Redman
Take each stock character and play up that person’s individual quirk, slam a lot of invisible doors and fully commit to each improbable misinterpretation. Throw in lots of physical comedy and slapstick, and they serve up the perfect recipe for a bedroom farce.
“Taking Steps” is one of many works by prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Written in 1980, it features a wealthy, drunken bucket manufacturer (Chip Duford); his wife, a mediocre, self-absorbed dancer (Rebecca Futterman); the wife’s brother, a personnel manager who puts people to sleep with his conversations (Noah Putterman); a solicitor who can barely complete a sentence (Michael Hanson); a fleeing fiance (Ali Perlwitz); and an overeager home seller (Kevin Coubal). The women are trying to run away while the men are caught up in their business affairs. None of them, though, can get very far from this huge, drafty house that is rumored to be haunted.
While the audience knows all of the house’s secrets, the occupants are left ever in the dark (sometimes literally), often finding only paranormal explanations for the bumps in the night.
It is the physical comedy where these actors excel and some of the greatest laughs are elicited. They prance up stairs in a manner made all the more humorous by the fact that the set has no actual stairs. They pantomime moving up long narrow stairs to the second floor and circular ones to the attic with such great consistency that the audience has no trouble visualizing what is meant to be there. Even the silences are funny, whether the actors are frozen as they wait for anything to happen or as they awkwardly stare at each other at a loss for what to say. They ham up expressions without ever betraying the character type and fully commit to even the most obvious of misinterpretations that each character makes of the others.
Kristin Ellert’s scenic design feeds into the comedy with the richly furnished house, shaking water heater, falling plaster and well-marked rooms. The stage floor even writes out the names of the rooms as if the characters were players in an oversized Clue game where the mystery is not a murder but the whereabouts of each character.
Sound Technician Matthew Eckstein is also to be commended for perfectly producing the sounds for every slamming door, creaking stairs and running water. Sound Designer Amanda K. Werre produced a madcap sound plot that was executed with beautiful timing.
There isn’t much of a plot or a point to “Taking Steps,” nor can any great meaning be plumbed from it. Rather, it was one of Ayckbourn’s annual offerings at his theater company, produced according to formula and designed to tickle the fancy of a loyal following. However, like an Agatha Christie novel that keeps to form, there is much enjoyment to be taken from the expected. Hope Summer Rep does justice to the farce and sometimes no greater meaning is needed other than an evening of gentle laughter.
Hope Summer Repertory Theatre at DeWitt Theatre, 141 E. 12th St., Holland. Plays in rotating repertory through July 26. $8-$19. 616-395-7890. http://www.hope.edu/hsrt