Tuesday, April 18, 2017

‘Travels’ Charms at North Coast Rep.

Graham Green’s novel “Travels with my Aunt” adapted by Giles Havergal is currently in a charming production at North Coast Repertory Theatre through May 14th

It’s an odd duck of a play with four characters (once again) representing at least 27 different types, yet all represent Henry Pulling at one stage or another in his life. Henry is the nephew of the notorious (ahem) ‘Aunt Augusta’ as in “Travels With My Aunt”.

They are identified in the program as Actor 1, Actor 2, Actor 3 and Actor 4. And while they are all dressed identically in black bowler hats, black suites with black vests, white shirts, stripped tie and black tie shoes, they somehow morph from distinct to interchangeable Henry’s to not so clear others with the blink of an eye, a change in tone, an accent, a gesture or a look. Elisa Benzoin is credited for costume design.

The four, James Saba, McBean, Richard Baird and Benjamin Cole play Henry’s adventures out like a well- tuned musical instrument. It’s delightful, amusing and if need be can be fairy dusted with some intrigue. But fear not, it is simply entertainment for those willing to sit back and follow the dots. Executive director, David Ellenstein and his talented cast do the rest.

David McBean, Richard Baird, Benjamine Cole and James Saba
Giles Havergal’s 1989 adaptation of Graham Green’s 1969 novel is an unforgettable romp for dear Aunt Augusta’s straight-laced and retired banker nephew when she finally meets up with him at his mother’s funeral. Before he can water another dahlia (he grows them) Augusta, his free -wheeling, no holds barred aunt invites him to her place for a drink “I have everything we require.”

She forgot to mention her body servant “I call him Wordsworth because I can’t bring myself to call him Zachary.” “Is he your valet?” “Let me say he attends to my wants.”

To Henry’s surprise Wordsworth also lets Henry know that he makes “jig-jig” with Augusta. Now that may be one for the book. Other characters that show up on their travels include an Italian war criminal, a CIA operative and his flower child daughter, a few police operatives, a Mr. Visconti and a Colonel Hakim to name a few.

Henry and Augusta travel from Paris to Istanbul on the Orient Express to her final destination in Paraguay where she is reunited with a former lover, Visconti. He was a war criminal and swindler who now is happy just being a smuggler. With each stop along the way another episode or event is revealed until we reach South America Aunt Augusta final destination.

It is on these travels Henry learns of her romantic escapades, ones she wears on her sleeve like a badge of honor. The further they travel the further away from his boring existence he becomes. For Henry, life was dust jacket and now it is one adventure after another. With each event Henry comes more inquisitive about how the other half lives.

The acting is simply outrageous in a wonderful way. James Saba (we should see more of him on stage) carries the weight of his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta and changes in a heartbeat back to Henry. The two are polar opposites in the beginning but as they begin their travels and more of her past is revealed, Henry is finally a believer.

David McBean is hilarious as at least three of the women, a German, an Italian and a young girl. He plays no less than 10 characters and each one is right up his alley.

Richard Baird is impressive as Wordsworth the large African from Sierra Leone whose love for Augusta is endless. He also plays Mr. Visconti and Colonel Hakim. All have accents of one ilk or another and he succeeds. He too plays 9 characters in all and each one is distinct from the other.

Benjamin Cole plays about five or six different characters. Two are non -speaking. His presence is always felt in one way or another. He may have a special look, move some props, act as a detective or police or just stand and look out at the audience.  

Marty Burnet's simple blue toned set with a few benches, some built in shelves along blue walls give the actors room to go about their business. Some of the shelves swing open to store whatever props  (Andrea Gutierrez) might be needed. Three large framed picture openings are used to provide an extra visual with Aaron Rumley’s beautiful projections. Melanie Chen’s sound design and Matt Novotny’s lighting design complete the picture.

“Travels With My Aunt” might even get some of us thinking about becoming more adventuresome even if Aunt Augusta isn't in the room. Have fun with this one.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through May 14th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858.481.1055
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D, Solana Beach, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $46.00
Web: northcoastrep.org

Photo and Projections: Aaron Rumley


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