Old Globe’s ‘Life of Riley’ gets laughs, but from annoying characters
By Diana Saenger
The Old Globe has acknowledged the prolific career of playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn by producing 10 of his plays in the last 25 years. “Life of Riley” (Ayckbourn’s 74th play) is making its world premiere at the Globe, but while it offers many laughs, the story suffers from repetitious pacing and characters who fail to draw us into their dilemmas.
Directed by Richard Seer, the story centers on three couples at different stages in their lives who are enlisted to help a friend with only months to live.
Colin (Colin McPhillamy) and Kathryn (Henny Russell) are the oldest and complacent with life. Colin is a doctor and Kathryn a stay-at-home and meddling wife. They are rehearsing for a play, but Colin’s unwillingness to concentrate or pay attention to Kathryn’s babbling continually irritates her,
Tamsin (Dana Green) and Jack (Ray Chambers) are middle-aged. Tamsin is also in the play, but her life is falling apart as she detects Jack is having an affair. Monica (Nisi Sturgis) is married, but has left her husband, George Riley, and is now in love with Farmer Simeon (David Bishins).
When Kathryn coaxes the name of his dying patient out of her husband and realizes it’s George Riley, she phones Tamsin who tells Jack, George’s best friend. Tears and trauma follow as Kathryn, who was in a relationship with George when she was younger, Tamsin and Monica all vie to take care of him.
Much of a play’s enjoyment comes from getting to know and care for its characters. That’s my problem with “Life of Riley.” While Colin is wonderful at playing the doofus — the best character in the play — he can’t carry the weight of this story alone. Lines from Kathryn like, “He saves his patients only to kill them with his small talk,” make her one-dimensional and tiring. Jack’s role requires him to be a basket case over George, but it’s over the top and unrealistic for a man truly mourning. The many scenes with Jack and Tamsin screaming at each other are also draining.
The creative team of Robert Morgan (scene and costume), Chris Rynne (lighting), Paul Peterson (sound), Jan Gist (dialect coach) and Elizabeth Stephens (stage manager) comes through fine in this production, but their efforts did not enhance my enjoyment of the show.
George Riley is only alluded to, he never appears in the play, and I think that’s a significant reason it didn’t resonate with me. The characters never convince me he’s really a part of their lives and their continual bickering, shouting and unresolved relationships left me constantly checking my watch.
If you go
What: “Life of Riley”
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays; 7 p.m. Sundays to June 5
Where: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Contact: (619) 23-GLOBE
Post-show forum: May 31, free.
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