By Elise Marenson
The NYC premiere of Hero’s Welcome is theater where all the pieces – writing, directing, and acting – impeccably fit together. Hero’s Welcome, currently running in rep at Brits Off Broadway, is playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s 79th play, and Mr. Ayckbourn hasn’t lost his touch. He also directed this production, a playwright uniquely able to optimally serve his text.
The play is written in a familiar structure of Mr. Ayckbourn’s, going back to his early works exemplified by The Norman Conquests. He weaves the lives of six characters, leaving none as secondary players. With six equally important characters potentially cluttering the field, Mr. Ayckbourn manages to draw each finitely, making us feel that we know and understand them. For underneath his soapy tale is a deep understanding of human nature.
The play’s title and springboard for the story is the return of Murray (Richard Stacey) to his home town after a seventeen-year absence. Murray has been in the military serving in a fictional war zone where he accidentally saves the lives of kids under attack in a children’s hospital. From that undisclosed land, Murray has brought home a young, earnest bride nicknamed Baba (Evelyn Hoskins). They communicate in a strange foreign language, as Baba assiduously studies English from an outdated vocabulary book while comically trying out fancy words on her new acquaintances.
Murray’s homecoming isn’t greeted with joy by two key people from his past. There is Alice (Elizabeth Boag), now the town mayor, whom Murray left at the altar seventeen years ago before he abruptly flew the coop. Though Alice moved on and settled for marrying affably boring Derek (Russell Dixon), Murray’s return hits old wounds from which she never fully recovered. Murray stole Alice from his boyhood best friend, his ultra-competitive rival Brad (Stephen Billington). Brad comes from a family of higher station than the rest of them and is an unabashed prick, especially to his wife Kara (Charlotte Harwood) whom he incessantly belittles.
Murray and Baba plan to make their home in the town, by restoring the decaying building that was once his parents’ hotel. In room nine, the young Murray, Brad, and Alice had many a sexual romp. Since drink and bad management drove the property into the hands of the bank, Murray discovers that the hotel no longer belongs to his invalid dad and is scheduled for demolition by the town council. He tries to convince Mayor Alice to reverse her decision and save the hotel, a sticky situation pleading with the woman he abandoned. Where these ancient jealousies and resentments lead is what fuels the ensuing explosive events.
The never changing set is a living area that seamlessly depicts the homes of all three couples, as the actors move to different corners of the stage. When I left the theater, I wondered what I would say in my review since I have not one negative criticism of the production. With the direction and entire cast equally splendid, it is perfection.
Hero’s Welcome – Written and Directed by Alan Ayckbourn.
WITH: Stephen Billington (Brad), Elizabeth Boag (Alice), Russell Dixon (Derek), Charlotte Harwood (Kara/Simone), Evelyn Hoskins (Baba), and Richard Stacey (Murray).
Designer, Michael Holt; lighting by Jason Taylor; casting by Sarah Hughes, CDG; AEA stage manager, Veronica Aglow; press representative, Karen Greco. Presented by Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. At 59E59 Theaters (Elysabeth Kleinhans, Artistic Director; Peter Tear, Executive Producer; Brian Beirne, Managing Director), 59 East 59th Street. Tickets: Call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Through July 2. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes with intermission.