Weekend at an English Country Estate
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
October 17, 2010
Weekend at an English Country Estate is an uproarious romp through the lives of the dilettantes and idle rich weekending at Hightower Park in the 1930s. Reminiscent of the satirical, tongue-in-cheek works of the time and even directly referencing some of them—Evelyn Waugh's "bright young things" and P.G. Wodehouse's iconic butler, Jeeves—playwright Sara Montgomery has captured the very best in bright comedy of that age. Combined with a stellar cast and superb direction, a disastrous getaway for the characters becomes a pitch-perfect escape for the audience.
The tone of the play is set by a charmingly airy number choreographed by Alexis Grausz. Each gesture is exaggerated so that the tenuous ties among the motley group begin to become apparent even before the dialogue begins. Sara C. Walsh's chintzy, flowered-wallpaper-heavy set design lends the stage the atmosphere of an overstuffed British tea shop; a perfect complement to the claustrophobic chaos that ensues when overbearing personalities are thrown together against their will.
As is often the case in upstairs-downstairs comedy, the servants' presence is crucial. The dialogue opens with them pretending to be their "betters" before the guests arrive. "I wonder what the poor people are doing today," the maid, played by Julia Moss, sniffs. "I'm sure I don't care," Mick Lauer retorts as the butler. Due to a communication failure, for which each blames the other, the divorced Lord and Lady Hightower, played by Jacques Roy and Elizabeth Neptune, find themselves at their shared home on the same weekend—and they've both brought their younger paramours with them. To complicate matters, the latter two also share a secret romantic history. Montgomery's whiplash-witty script is served well as all the former lovers try to one-up each other through verbal and emotional warfare.
Madeleine Maby and Charlie Wilson as the desultory young lovers, Veronica and Charles, make a bet as to who can get engaged first to their respective Hightower. Dialect coach Charley Layton has served this piece well as the tonal inflections of the entire cast, and especially these two actors, are impeccably true to the mood of people only pretending to be too mercenary to have real feelings. Their reckless game soon involves the other members of the party; the Hightowers' daughters, Evelyn and Athena, played by Alyssa Lott and playwright Montgomery, as well as Veronica's cousin, Damon, played gleefully by Joe Stipek. Stipek, playing a depressed poet, often gets the choicest lines, with his hilariously despondent interjections into the conversation never failing to get a laugh. In fact, there is hardly a joke that misses its mark. The camaraderie and comedic timing among the cast are too polished to allow it. Director Paul Urcioli makes some excellent blocking decisions so that each conversation between characters is given its comedic due. In the end, all couples are paired off believably but without ever sacrificing wit to sentimentality.
From start to finish, Weekend at an English Country Estate is a near flawless treat. Like the best period pieces, the themes are so recognizable that none of the meaning is lost.