Exotic riches

Travels with My Aunt

By Graham Greene, adapted for the stage by Giles Havergal
Directed by Jennifer Evans Ward
Gallery Players
199 14th Street, Brooklyn (718) 595-0547
Equity showcase (closes January 23)
Review by Doug DeVita

Jennifer Evans Ward's jazzy new production of Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt began as six engaging performers, all of them barefoot and dressed alike in black suits, lined up across the stage to read from Graham's text. With extraordinary panache, these same six performers proceeded to act out the story of retired bank manager Henry Pulling and his eccentric Aunt Augusta as they embark on a mysterious, adventurous odyssey that takes them from England and France to Istanbul and Paraguay.

Giles Havergal's stage adaptation, like Greene's late-'60s novel, is a sprawling affair, loaded with the devious scheming, unconventional relationships, and far-too-convenient coincidences that constitute most globetrotting stories of comic intrigue. It needs a stylish, well-cast production to work, and on that count Ward and Gallery players unquestionably delivered.

Playing a variety of colorful characters, Janet Dunston, David Gravens, James Hay, Reba Herman, Laura Ruth, and Ellen Shanman traded quips, non-sequiturs, and genders with disarming aplomb, effortlessly racing through their various assignments with a sophisticated grace and brisk, energetic charm. Characterizations were sharp and accents flawless as they brought vivid life to Ward's intricate, ultra-cool production, which featured several of the performers, both male and female, alternating as Henry and Augusta.

But Ward's staging, while visually an impeccably elegant work of art, was ultimately just too hip for its own good. The device of having different actors alternate as Henry and Augusta, instead of adding a layer of intrigue, merely served to distance the audience from the action. Because there was not one consistent, central set of characters to bond with throughout the evening, the perpetually twisting plot was difficult to follow, and attention very quickly focused on the lavish sophistication of the production at the expense of emotional involvement. All of this inventive theatricality eventually wore thin, and the evening became a triumph of heartless style over substance.

And the production was lavish, if cold. Misha Kuchta's witty black-and-white suits against Todd Reemtsma's Modigliani-inspired gray unit set, in conjunction with Reemtsma's incredibly detailed lighting, gave the evening a coolly distinctive look, while Andrew Recinos' superb original score and sound design went far in giving the evening its jazzy edge.

Gallery Players is one of the more adventurous theatre companies in town, consistently attracting top-level talent and showcasing them in intelligent, well-produced productions. If Travels With My Aunt didn't quite succeed, it was not because of any lack of talent on the part of those involved. Perhaps, being in Brooklyn, the desire to compete with the best of Manhattan became the overwhelming temptation, and in the urge to awe, rather than thrill, the heart was neglected.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita