Alan Ayckbourn has come to Seattle to direct the U.S. première of his ten-year-old play, Sugar Daddies. He’s delivered a great night of theater. This dark comedy features Ayckbourn at full strength: self -assured, imaginative and highly entertaining. He is able to whip up a delicious dramatic dish. The show features charming, sophisticated dialogue spoken by characters enmeshed in a mysterious, skillfully rendered plot. We could never be sure exactly where we were going during the course of the evening, but it was a delightful ride nonetheless!
The show opens as Sasha, played by Emily Chisholm, helps an injured but appreciative older man into her London flat. He’s dressed as Father Christmas, fake white beard and all. He is Val, ably played by Sean G. Griffin, and he has been struck by a hit and run driver on the one night he performs his good deed: visiting a hospital, dressed as Santa to brighten the lives of sick children. Sasha’s half sister, Chloe (Elinor Gunn, a Washington State graduate, who nails the sardonic British manner) lectures Sasha on her naivety for allowing a stranger into their apartment.
Sasha is chastened, but nonetheless goes on to become Val’s special friend, despite the fact that he is old enough to be her grandfather. What do we make of such an odd relationship? What is this guy after? Is Sasha in real danger? Her new neighbor Ashley, played by John Patrick Lowrie, is sure she is. Chloe is worried about her as well, but has enough on her plate dealing with a remarkably unreliable boyfriend. Oddly enough, Sasha is thriving quite nicely as her unusual relationship with Val blossoms. Ayckbourn seems to be asking us if young Sasha’s good-natured innocence can really be maintained in a twenty-first century urban environment where “civilization is crumbling.”
The work is built as a showpiece for Chisholm’s character and she is up for the challenge. If her early moments on stage seem a bit manic, she settles down nicely and comes up with some wonderful moments, capturing a myriad of colors as Sasha comes into her own. The talented Anne Allgood arrives in Act II as Val’s dear old friend Charmaine. She is a dinner guest at the climatic dinner party where characters’ masks are taken off, or at least rearranged. Ayckbourn leaves a lot of the puzzles open-ended for a good part of the evening.
Since 1976, the ACT has staged ten of Ayckbourn’s plays. The cast and crew must be delighted to have this honored author and director in house, guiding them through the production. The Scenic Designer is Matthew Smucker, Costumes by Deb Trout, Sound by Brendan Patrick Hogan, Fight Director (and it is a hoot!) Geof Alm. Sugar Daddies plays at the ACT through November 3. Tickets at acttheatre.org or 206-292-7676.