The Newtowne Players takes high comedy to a whole new level with its rendition of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Table Manners,” a two-act British play that takes place over a weekend in the dining room of an older English home.
Though set in England about forty years ago, “Table Manners” addresses the timeless conundrum felt by all humanity about following the acceptable social norms dictated by society in general and getting the emotional and physical fulfillments one needs out of life. To this end, the audience is presented first with Annie, a woman who lives as her cantankerous mother’s caretaker. Annie’s sweet but clueless veterinarian neighbor Tom has been coming by for years yet has never picked up on Annie’s desire for him to ask her out.
Having dealt with being her mother’s sole caretaker for years and Tom’s obliviousness, Annie responds to advances from her sister Ruth’s husband, Norman. She plans to go away with him for a weekend tryst, until her sister-in-law discovers her plans and convinces her to stay. Soon the house is full for the weekend, with Annie, her brother and sister, their spouses and of course Tom, who never seems to catch on that he is supposed to woo Annie. Most of the action takes place at the dining room table at meal times, and consists of verbal thrashings and clever comebacks, peppered with just the right amount of physical comedy. The characters verbal interactions are the meat of the play, though amusingly there is no meat to be had at the impromptu weekend gathering where one meal consists of a single lettuce leaf per person and a tiny helping of a concoction made from canned soups that have been mixed together and heated.
Quick witted and funny, “Table Manners” is actually part of a trilogy written by Ayckbourn that has become known as “The Norman Conquests.” The play stands alone, however, and nothing is lost by only seeing one of the three plays that comprise the trilogy. The characters are well-rounded, and the audience gets a sense of the depth behind each character, a real feat for a two-act comedy. The play is humorous throughout, while still managing to make poignant points about the loneliness and desperation that is a part of the human condition. The transcendent combination of realism and comedy is present throughout the play, and is brilliantly brought to life by the actors at NTP.
“Table Manners” opened at Three Notch Theater on November 5 and runs through November 21. For more information or to reserve tickets, click here.