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Review: 'Taking Steps' at Odyssey Theatre

February 5, 2009 |  5:10 pm

Taking_steps1_odysseyIf Britain is a nation of eccentrics, then Alan Ayckbourn is its modern-day Bard, a witty wordsmith whose work is populated with offbeat characters who have no clue about how clueless they are. Author of almost 80 comedies, many of which have played on London's West End and beyond, Ayckbourn is now largely retired.  But the plays in his almost embarrassingly prolific oeuvre remain durably timely entertainments.

The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble opens its 40th season with Ayckbourn’s 1980 romp, “Taking Steps.”  Thumbing their noses at grim prognostications about the parlous state of theater these days, co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi invite us to join them for a hearty laugh or two. In light of present circumstances, it’s a fitting, even courageous choice, a cheeky whistle in the gathering darkness.

The action is set in a tumbledown Victorian mansion that, given Nadia Morgan’s set design and Adam Blumenthal’s lighting, comes across as overly sunny and moderne. Small matter. It's an old truism that farce requires at least five doors for hasty exits and entrances. This set has eight, more than sufficient for these typical Ayckbourn screwballs to get up to their old tricks.

The oh-so-proper wackos include Roland (Marty Ryan), a millionaire who made his fortune in buckets, his affected wife, Elizabeth (Melanie Lora), a mediocre dancer who longs to return to the boards, and Elizabeth’s hapless brother Mark (Andy Hoff), who simply can’t understand why people fall asleep the moment he starts droning. Also in the mix are stuttering solicitor’s clerk Tristam (Jonathan Runyon), who drops by to get some papers signed and falls down the rabbit hole, and Mark’s sometime fiancée, Kitty (Kate Rylie), who is involved in soliciting of quite a different sort. Topping off the group is Roland’s landlord Leslie (Bernard White), who wants Roland to buy his ramshackle property, a former brothel purportedly haunted by a dead prostitute whose lusty visitations leave her victims dead by dawn.

Of course, confusion of a particularly naughty stripe predominates. Granted, some of the running gags run into the ground and a few of the British accents detour by way of Poughkeepsie. Still, although “Steps” may not be a cure, it is a tonic that will keep outside troubles at bay for the duration.

--F. Kathleen Foley

“Taking Steps,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  (Also 8 p.m. Feb. 11 and 18, 7 p.m. Feb. 22 and March 22.)  Ends March 22.  $25 and $30.  (310) 477-2055.  Running time:  2 hours, 20 minutes.

Caption: Andy Hoff and Melanie Lora in "Taking Steps." Credit: Enci

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