Wednesday, May 23, 2012


In his seminal novel, The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison posited the idea that a person—in his case, a black man—could exist in plain sight yet be virtually unseen by those around him—in his case, white people. Now, the great British playwright Alan Ayckbourn has taken the insidious idea and run with it in a charming, droll comedy entitled My Wonderful Day, which closes out the season at the Two River Theater Company this month.

But Ellison's book wasn't a comedy, you say, and what's so funny about being invisible to your fellow man? Well, Ayckbourn has expanded the parameters of what makes a person "invisible" to include age, class and language, along with skin color, to serve as the central conceit to his study of people behaving badly—very badly! And while you'll laugh a lot, you'll find yourself thinking about the goings-on after you've left the theater.

Kept home from school sick, nine-year-old Anglo-Caribbean Winnie Barnstairs accompanies her pregnant housekeeper mother Laverne to her job at the home of a minor television celebrity couple, the Tates. Instructed to write an assignment about her day, Winnie observes and records everything that occurs around her, including marital infidelity, explosive egos run amok and comedic misunderstandings galore. Throughout the increasing domestic chaos, she sits unseen by the other characters: first, because she's a child (and a girl); second, because she's lower class; third, because she's black; and fourth, because they think she doesn't speak/understand English since she's speaking only in French that Tuesday in preparation for her and her mother's return to Martinique after her baby brother arrives (which is very imminent)!

Nicholas Martin's firm direction keeps the anarchy wild yet under control. Cameron Anderson has designed a spare, but elegant, modern London townhouse which Philip Rosenberg has lit appropriately as the action moves from the living room to the kitchen and the day progresses.

My Wonderful Day at Two River Theater photo by T  Charles EricksonAs Winnie, Susan Heyward's splendid and convincing performance provides the calm center of all that's swirling around her, with her big eyes taking everything in and her hand writing continually in her school notebook. Dressed in a school uniform, with her hair gathered in barrettes into bunches all over her head, Heyward is the very embodiment of a prepubescent schoolgirl. She's obedient toward her mother, aghast at the adults' sexual antics, bored, and intent on practicing her French even after her mother has gone to hospital in labor. She "fools" the adults into thinking she's French; her convincing portrayal of Winnie "fools" the audience, too. When my companion said she was amazed by the child's acting ability, I had to break the news that Heyward is definitely not a little girl!

Kimberly Hébert is spot-on as Laverne, ordering her daughter around in a long tirade about what she can and cannot do. Speaking nonstop, she gets the proceedings off to a fine start, and her portrayal of labor pains is priceless!

Susan Heyward and Alison Cimmet in My Wonderful Day photo by T  Charles EricksonAs for the wacky trio left to care for Winnie after her mother leaves, well, I wouldn't let one of them within two feet of my child. Marc Vietor's Kevin Tate (aboce, second from right) speaks (if you can call it that) at the top of his lungs as he frenetically rushes around the house looking for his absent wife Paula, dealing with his paramour and trying to decide what to do with the thousands of promotional DVDs he's made that have been corrupted by his spurned spouse. There's nothing to like about this guy, but he's not really mean, just self-centered and clueless, especially about children, whom he professes to hate. His assistant/lover Tiffany is played by Alison Cimmet (above, right) as the quintessential airhead. In a squeaky voice, she talks to Winnie like the girl is three years old or younger—slowly Kevin Isola and Susan Heyward in My Wonderful Day photo by T  Charles Ericksonand loudly and about topics inappropriate for a child. Kevin Isola once again shows his talent for physical comedy (remember him in Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's Accidental Death of an Anarchist last season) as Kevin's hungover associate Josh (left). He, too, has no idea of how to deal with a child, and the scene where he falls asleep with his feet propped on the dining table is especially hilarious.

The climax comes when Paula, played by Danielle Skraastad (top, left) whirls into the house. Shrieking about her husband's sexual shenanigans, she's the only one who shows any sympathy for Winnie's predicament. The virago has a heart, which is more than she shows to Tiffany whom she summarily evicts, without clothes. When she converses with the girl in French, she speaks so quickly that Winnie has to get out her dictionary.

Alan Ayckbourn's usual targets are the domestic relationships of the British middle class, but this is the first time he's written from the point of view of a child, and a person of color at that! Since the opening of My Wonderful Day in 2009, the play has had ten productions in the United States and none in the UK. Perhaps it cuts too close to the bone for the Brits, but we Yanks love to see class warfare play out with the underdog as victor. Of course, that Ayckbourn administers his bite with love and honesty makes it all even droller.

While My Wonderful Day doesn't have an ending wherein the scoundrels get their comeuppance (these folks will probably go on behaving very badly—it's in their DNA), just watching Laverne's facial expressions as she reads Winnie's essay makes for delicious theater. I don't know whether Winnie considers the day "wonderful," but it sure is a wonderful ninety minutes for the Two River Theater audience.

My Wonderful Day will be performed at Two River's Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, through Sunday, June 3. Don't forget to arrive at the theater 45 minutes before curtain to hear local Ayckbourn aficionado/expert offer insights about the playwright's life and career. There will be Post-Play Conversations following the Sunday, May 27, 3 PM and Wednesday, May 30, 1 PM performances. For tickets and information, call 732.345.1400 or visit

Photos by T. Charles Erickson