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Sunday, 20 June 2010 12:51

Now I Ask You

Written by Robert A. Mitchell
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The Details

Upon walking into the Krantzberg Theater, my first thought was “Holy crap! Eugene O'Neill wrote a drawing room comedy? I thought I had stumbled into a production of The Importance of Being Ernest by mistake – which would NOT be a bad thing – I love me some Oscar Wilde, and usually O'Neill tends to be… oh, long-winded. Imagine my surprise, then, when the opening moments of Now I Ask You has a distraught young woman rushing in, putting a gun to her head and presumably pulling the trigger, a la the end of Hedda Gabler? Ah, an O'Neill tragedy after all… But, how did she get to this low point?

Beliebe it or not, that's where the comedy comes in! Deftly directed by Jerry McAdams, in a brisk 3 Acts totally 2 hour (Wow! Another O'Neill first !), we see the story, in flashback of Lucy Ashleigh. She's a young, attractive, turn-of-the-century WASP, who is driving her parents crazy. She's at that point where she changes her religion, politics and artistic temperament as often as she changes her clothing. But what has taken the cake now, is that Lucy has gone to an anarchist meeting on birth control, and is now a stanch and rather vocal proponent of “free love”! This, of course, comes as a surprise to Tom Drayton, her businessman fiancée, who, incidentally, is due to marry her tomorrow. And thus, in the closest thing to a bedroom farce that O'Neill (with the help of his wife, Agnes Boulton O'Neill) has ever written, hilarity ensues. A play, written in 1916, examining the very 1970's institution of wife-swapping! Shocking! Seriously.

Believing his mother-in-law's protestations that this is just a phase, Tom basically signs a pre-nup allowing Lucy any personal freedoms that she wishes. Big mistake. Lucy is as stubborn as she is progressive, and Tom finds out that she is serious, when she starts to crush on Gabriel, the boytoy of her bohemian artist friend, Leonara (Leo, for short). Mom then suggests that the way to win back her affection is for Tom to pretend to make a play for Leo. He does, but things turn ugly when Lucy can't tell that this facade is only to make her jealous. But, of course, like all bedroom farces, everything turns out in the end, and all three couples -- Tom and Lucy, Mr. And Mrs. Ashleigh, Leo and Gabriel – all happily embrace. SPOILER: Only O'Neill would try to pull off a happy ending 3 minutes after a girl tries to kill herself.

Katie McGee, as Lucy, is alternately cute and petulant, sweet and annoying, and often at the same time! She captures this admittedly spoiled brat very well, and yet makes us feel a little badly when she realizes that the swingers life is not all it's cracked up to be. Robert Ashton as Mr. Ashleigh is appropriately full of bluster and fatherly outrage, to good comic effect. Andra Harkins as the-mother-in-law-who-knows-how-to manage-a-spoiled-brat has an exacting sense of weariness and wry exasperation at her daughter's antics. Ben Ritchie is very good as the befuddled new husband, Tom. (After turns as both Aragorn and Hans Solo, I must say that seeing a blond, short-haired Ben Ritchie is more than a little disconcerting.) Leonora is played with great bravado and smart-assed-ness by Sarajane Alverson, the “go-to” girl for all things “a little bitchy”. The award for scene-stealing, however, goes to Alan C. David (known to some as “Soupy”) for his portrayal of vain, egotistical, overwrought, pseudo-world weary poet Gabriel. With his endless preening and posturing, he is the epitome of “Emo Kid”, 90 years before it becomes fashionable!

Scenic Design by Sean Savoie effortlessly captures 2 upper-middle-class abodes with aplomb, on a shoestring. Lighting by Jonathan Lebovic gets both the lightness of drawing room comedy, and a touch of O'Neill darkness simultaneously. Costumes by Mary Beth Amsler were spot on, each bringing out character is a way that lets you know that she thought about these people for some time (especially the richness of the men's suits – oh, God, I just turned into Harry Weber). No one is credited for the sound design, which effectively lets us know not to take this O'Neill too seriously.

Plenty of Wilde-worthy bon mots are tossed about in this pretty breezy production, tempering the somewhat-still-shocking subject matter, now playing at Muddy Waters Theatre at The Krantzberg through June 27th. For more information, you may call 314-799-8399 or visit www.muddywaterstheatre.com

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