Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 26, 2017

Taking Steps

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 5, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Alan Ayckbourn’s 1979 play, “Taking Steps,” presents a staging challenge for any theater. The play takes place in a large, run-down, three-level house, but the various levels are all played on a flat stage, with location indicated by actors miming the stair steps separating the different floors. Timing and blocking of actors makes up much of the comedy in this farce as actors on the different “levels” pass within a whisker’s distance from each other.

Photo by Daniel Rader
In Barrington Stage Company’s production of this clever, wacky story, director Sam Buntrock moves his actors as though they were chess pieces. Aided by a clever set by Jason Sherwood and punctuated by a complicated lighting system designed by David Weiner, the house becomes a “character” as much as any of actors do. Oh yes, and the house has a history too—it was reputed to have been a brothel, with at least one ghost still frequenting the premises.

The talented sextet of actors each portray strong characters, representing the usual “types” you expect in a farce. On the night I saw the show, Carson Elrod as Tristram, the bumbling representative from a Solicitor’s Office (remember, this is British) was a particular crowd pleaser. Tristram’s physicality and vacuous demeanor play beautifully against the others who all have their own reasons for trying to manipulate the outcome of the story. Another stand-out is Richard Hollis as Roland, the severe “man of the house” who likes to exercise what he sees as his superior intelligence and control, over others. When Roland’s tightly-wound character begins to unravel, we see some of the funniest scenes generating spontaneous belly-laughs from the audience.

The pacing and timing in this production are admirable and the characters strong and convincing. It may take a few more performances for the cast to find their “grove” and make this gem sparkle, but I have no doubt that as this cast’s comfort level on the stage grows, so too will the audience’s appreciation of Ayckbourn’s farce, which offers the best of eccentric characters, silly situations, and opportunities for laughter.