By Lucy Komisar
Alan Ayckbourn’s mordantly funny satire of middle class marital life – a staple of his genius through 70 plays — is significantly enhanced by the presence, almost as a fly on the wall, of 9-year-old Winnie (Ayesha Antoine). She is the daughter of Laverne (a warm, bubbly Petra Letang), a cleaner who tows her along to the house of her employers because Winnie isn’t feeling well and doesn’t want to go to school.
Winnie’s class assignment for the next day is to write about My Wonderful Day, and she methodically records in a lined notebook the marital spats and infidelities she observes, generally with a blank expression and often with her head resting on an arm on the table, as kids are wont to do.
Ayckbourn is a master at inventing little bits on which a story turns. For example, Laverne, pregnant by a husband who has left her, dreams of moving to Martinique, the family homeland, and therefore insists that Winnie practice French every Tuesday. This gives rise to droll aper§us such as Ma m¨re est compl¨tement weird! It helps to know French.
It also enhances Winnie’s fly on the wall status since she answers in French to the adults she encounters: Kevin Tate (Terence Booth), the egotistical TV presenter; Tiffany Cavendish (Ruth Gibson), Tate’s ditzy assistant/mistress; Josh (Paul Kemp), Tate’s friend; and Paula Hamilton (Alexandra Mathie), the businesswoman wife Tate is cheating on.
They carry on blithely unaware that she sees all, though they talk to her, nonetheless. Tiffany confides in her about her lonely boarding school days. Josh, divorced, gets teary eyed about missing his daughter.
Tate, who shares the house with his wife, is a nasty, boorish guy all around. He exhibits basic racism – or maybe classism. There’s no one here at present, nobody, says Tate on the phone, though Laverne and Winnie, Afro-Caribbean, are there. What sort of name is that for a cleaner? Tate says about Laverne.
He is also sexist. His description of the feminine qualities are gentle, quiet spoken, submissive, agreeable, soft, don’t argue with you…. That doesn‘t work the other way around. He screams and howls on the phone to his wife.
Exhibiting the tacky commercialism that fits his character, he has made a promotional video on the Fantacity Shopping Mall, open 24/7.
Winnie is left alone with him and the other adults who arrive after her mother suddenly is taken to the hospital to give birth. Her departure elicits Winnie’s only emotion, as she fears her mother could die.
Ayesha Antoine, who is 28, channels Winnie with a grand repertoire of looks and gestures that persuade you that this kid is indeed a grade-schooler. Her eyes pop, she grimaces and scowls, she fidgets and twists her legs. When she is bored by an adult, she balances a pen on her upper lip and flips it around till it she catches it in her mouth. Now there’s a trick!
It’s the adults who are childish. In case you didn’t get that, Tate and Tiffany talk baby talk to each other. Paula goes into blind rages. Josh tries to steal a candy bar out of Winnie’s school sack. When adults talk childishly to her, she answers in French. All the cast members provide fine portrayals of their unattractive characters.
Ayckbourn is a master of subtle slapstick, the one liner, the bizarre situation. As director as well as author, he displays his dark wit here with perfect comic timing.
My Wonderful Day. Written & Directed by Alan Ayckbourn. Produced by Stephen Joseph Theatre Company at 59E59Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York City. 212-279-4200. Opened November 18, 2009, Closes December 13, 2009. http://www.59e59.org/