SPOTLIGHT: “The Norman Conquests,” a Tony award-winning trilogy of plays opens in Langley

Posted in Feature, Spotlight, Theater and Dance

It all revolves around a somewhat nerdish Don Juan character named Norman, and you might not want to miss it.

Whidbey Island Center for the Arts takes on a monumental project: staging Alan Ayckbourn’s comic trilogy “The Norman Conquests.” It consists of three sophisticated and very funny comedies — “Table Manners,” “Living Together” and “Round and Round the Garden” — each set in a different room of an English country house and each telling a variation on the same story. It’s an adventure depicting how six maladjusted adults deal with unanticipated events over the course of one mishap filled weekend.

“The Norman Conquests” is directed by Andrew Grenier, who also helmed last season’s “Doubt” and “God of Carnage. The play opens on Friday, June 7 and runs through Saturday, June 22. The various segments can be seen in any order or patrons can see just one or two of the plays as stand-alone productions. Show times are 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees. All three plays will be presented on the stage in repertoire on “Trilogy Saturday” at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on June 22.

The mind-bending 1973 work, a hit in its 2009 Broadway revival, takes its name not from musty British history, but from its two-timing (maybe three-timing) central character, Norman.

Producing and directing three plays in repertoire is quite a challenge for the cast and crew: six actors, three sets, three plays, and eight days. Director Andy Grenier is ready for the challenge.

David Mayer, Phil Jordan, Gail Liston and Laura Persaud rehearse "The Norman Conquests" opening June 7 at WICA. (Photos courtesy of WICA)

David Mayer, Phil Jordan, Gail Liston and Laura Persaud rehearse “The Norman Conquests” opening June 7 at WICA. (Photos courtesy of WICA)

“It’s both wildly ambitious and a totally diabolical plot to drive actors, directors, stage managers, designers, etc., completely mad, but it’s also a great, fun challenge. There’s no other theater in this area that has taken on this challenge,” said Grenier.

Norman, a librarian stuck in his own personal erotica section, romances three separate women at an English country house in one frantic July weekend. Annie owns the house and lives there as caretaker to her aging mother. Sarah is visiting with her husband Reg. Annie, Reg, and Ruth are siblings and Ruth also happens to be married to Norman. Toss in Tom, Annie’s goodhearted veterinarian neighbor who doesn’t know he’s supposed to be in love with Annie, and you have a deliciously tangled setup for a raucous romp.

“Quentin Tarantino said recently that while he doesn’t like to fail he likes to hit his head against it every time out. He finds the fear(?) exhilarating,” the director said.

“I’m sure there was a bit of that here. Nevertheless, to be with a group of actors and like-minded artists engaged in a creative process that you are so committed to that you are willing to stare that fear down. That’s pretty exciting,” Grenier said.

The cast features David Mayer as Norman, Phil Jordan as Reg, Gail Liston as Sarah, Michael Morgen as Tom, Laura Persaud as Annie and Julia Tewksbury as Ruth.

This clever British playwright gives us a look at the same events from the viewpoint of different locations rather than different people. Ayckbourn’s characters move between the garden, the living room and the dining room and we see, in each play only, what occurs in those venues. When characters move from the one room to another, they are moving to another play. Seeing one play is enough to understand the script; seeing all of them deepens your sense of the characters and understanding of their connections and provides three times the laughs.

“The plays can be seen in any order,” Grenier said.

“That being said, we are doing them in the order that Ayckbourn presented them: “Table Manners,” “Living Together” and “Round and Round the Garden. “On the closing Saturday (Trilogy Saturday), June 22 we’ll perform all three in one day. It’s a roller-coaster ride for actor and audience alike and it promises to be a hoot.”

According to the director, any of the three plays gives you a generous glimpse into a gleefully torrid little world – three plays, six characters … infinite possibilities. Each play sheds light on one of Norman’s conquests: “Garden” shows Norman’s genuine affection for Annie—dismissed, scoffed at and trampled on by Sarah in “Table Manners.” The depth of Ruth and Norman’s connection is displayed — on the floor, on a brown, faux-fur rug — in “Living Together.” “Manners” binds Norman and Sarah together — figuratively and literally (it’s breakfast, there’s jam, you get the picture…). As a result, which play you see first will greatly affect your opinion of all the characters, but especially Norman, and how much sympathy you have for this very flawed character. The perfection of Conquests’ construction isn’t evident until you view all three — each a slice of a single weekend-in-the-country life cut from three spots. It’s masterful—an impenetrable dramaturgical fortress, with not a crack to be found.

Check out this interesting break down created by the show’s stage manager, Steve Ford.

Ticket prices are $15 Youth/Matinee, $18 Senior/Military and $22/Adults. Trilogy Saturday costs $45 for all three plays.

Whidbey Island Center for the Arts is located at 565 Camano Avenue in Langley. To reserve tickets, visit the website or call the ticket office at (360) 221- 8268 or (800) 638-7631.

The performance schedule is:

Table Manners, Fri, 6/7/13, 7:30 p.m.
Living Together, Sat, 6/8/13, 7:30 p.m.
Round and Round the Garden, Sun 6/9/13, 2:00 p.m.
Table Manners, Fri, 6/14/13, 7:30 p.m.
Living Together, Sat, 6/15/13, 7:30 p.m.
Round and Round the Garden, Sun 6/16/13, 2:00 p.m.
Table Manners, Fri, 6/21/13, 7:30 p.m.
Trilogy Saturday: Sat, 6/22/13, Table Manners, 11:00 a.m.; Living Together, 3:00 p.m.; Round and Round the Garden, 7:30 p.m.

(Pictured at top: Julia Tewksbury as Ruth and David Mayer as Norman get into it on the rug during a rehearsal./Photo courtesy of WICA)

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