Constellation Theatre’s season opener “Taking Steps” by Alan Ayckbourn lives up to its company’s mission of visionary design, heightened physicality and epic ensemble theatre in every regard.
The show, set in the round inside the black box Source Theatre building, is a madcap comedy revolving around six Brits searching for and evading one another in three stories of a possibly haunted former brothel, all getting into various escapades in the process. The scene opens with Elizabeth (Tia Shearer) packing her bags to leave her husband Roland (Matthew Wilson). Before she can go, she must convince her brother Mark (Dylan Myers) to take her to the train station, then come back and console Roland. Complicating this is that Mark must also go pick up his fiancée Kitty (Megan Graves), who he hasn’t seen since their wedding day, when she left him at the altar. The siblings finally seem to have worked out a plan when the junior solicitor Tristram shows up, looking for Roland and throwing a wrench into everything.
The set itself is a work of art. It brings you three separate stories of a house all on one plane — the actors mime the stairs and doors — so that while a scene is happening in one room, the audience can still observe the characters in the other two rooms. Costume designer Kendra Rai provides exuberant and funny clothing for each character, but a few outfits border on garish.
Shearer absolutely embodies her character Elizabeth, a dancer, giving the audience hilarious physical comedy.
Matthew Wilson plays Roland, Elizabeth’s husband who’s an alcoholic business man, to a T. He steadily progresses through his drinks during the course of the play, but doesn’t overplay his drunkenness as a lesser actor might.
Matthew McGee makes his Constellation Theatre debut as the bumbling lawyer Tristram Watson, who manages to unwittingly wreak havoc and cause major upheaval in the lives of the other characters. McGee has impeccable timing, making the audience laugh seemingly without even trying.
Fellow newcomer Graves plays Kitty with immense charm and has the whole audience rooting for her by the end of the show. And not to be forgotten are Myers as Mark and Doug Wilder as Leslie Bainbridge. Leslie reminds us of the world outside the Victorian mansion and his dynamic with Roland provides comedic fodder. While Mark is so wrapped up in his own view of the world, he doesn’t allow his fiancée Kitty to think for herself. Their relationship is a key aspect of the play.
In “Taking Steps,” director Allison Stockman puts grand physical comedy into an intimate setting to incredible effect. With plots and subplots, this truly ensemble piece provides not just sidesplitting laughs but thoughtful commentary on the struggle to communicate with and listen to the people we love. This play is a must-see.
Go see “Taking Steps”:
Where: Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW
When: Sept. 6 through Oct. 7