Some adults still believe that children should be seen and not heard. But what if that quiet child is writing down every foolish thing the adults are saying and doing?
That's the delightful premise of Alan Ayckbourn's latest comedy, "My Wonderful Day," making its New York debut as part of BritsOffBroadway 2009 at 59E59 Theaters.
Ayckbourn wrote and directs this witty, thoughtful farce, which includes the original British cast from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Yorkshire, England.
On a Tuesday off sick from school, "almost 9"-year-old Winnie Barnstairs (an outstanding performance by Ayesha Antoine) accompanies her very pregnant mother, Laverne (Petra Letang), to her job as a housecleaner at the large home of a wealthy couple.
Letang is quite touching as Winnie's loving, slightly impractical mother. Laverne instructs her daughter to practice speaking only in French and to sit quietly and do her homework, which is to write down everything that happens during the day.
And what a chaotic day it becomes, as a trio of self-absorbed, distracted adults accumulates in the house. These unsuitable baby sitters are put in charge of Winnie after Laverne unexpectedly goes into labor and is rushed to the hospital. Winnie keeps her promise to her mother, sitting quietly among these strangers, speaking only in French _ and scribbling everything they say and do into her notebook.
Antoine has magically dropped nearly two decades to give a wonderful performance as the adorable, eye-rolling, dutiful Winnie. Even when silent, she steals the show with her fidgeting, leg-wriggling, and most of all, with her expressive sideways glances or sudden, wide-eyed stares at the language and antics of the adults in this increasingly dysfunctional household.
Terence Booth plays boorish, sexist homeowner Kevin Tate with crotchety relish. Like the other adults, Tate initially believes that Winnie doesn't understand English, and he frequently curses and rants while discussing adult subject matter as if she's not even there.
Tate's nervous young assistant, Tiffany (Ruth Gibson), is summoned to deal with a business crisis, and it's soon clear she's the reason for his current marital woes. Tiffany kindly tries to entertain Winnie, but eventually sneaks off upstairs with Tate, both unaware that Winnie overhears their idiotic baby-talk together.
Paul Kemp plays Josh, a hung-over, ineffectual family friend. Kemp has the gift of making everything Josh says and does seem funny, just by his rumpled expression and hangdog delivery. Tate's wife Paula, already furious about his affair with Tiffany, turns up at an inopportune time, of course, in a scathingly funny portrayal by Alexandra Mathie.
The streamlined, claustrophobic set by Roger Glossop is made to seem like a large house with the help of Ayckbourn's clever direction and Mick Hughes' lighting design. Ayckbourn gets the best work out of this talented cast, creating many humorous silent moments amid the mayhem.
Eventually Winnie is brought to her mother's hospital bedside, and then it's Laverne's turn to give increasingly wide-eyed stares, as Winnie reluctantly begins to read her just-completed essay.
"My Wonderful Day" runs through Dec. 13.
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