Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Auctioning the Ainsleys": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The World Premiere of Laura Schellhardt's "Auctioning the Ainsleys" is so original, fresh, funny and eye-grabbing that it sent the reviewer scurrying through his archive of reviews to find the last Schellhardt play he had seen. Not surprisingly, he loved that one too.

Punch here for review of 'K of D' from September, 2008.

Schellhardt, currently in charge of the undergraduate playwrights at Northwestern University has managed to top herself here. "Auctioning the Ainsleys" is even more original than "K of D" and this time includes a six person cast of inspired crazy people, all playing characters with first names that start with 'A.'

The Ainsleys are all auctioneers. Alice Ainsley (Diane Dorsey), the mom, appears to be the sanest voice in the room, though her refusal to react to the abuse of her children by their deceased father appears to be at the heart of the drama.

Her four children, Avery (Heidi Kettenring), Annalee (Molly Anne Cogan), Amelia (Jessica Lynn Carroll) and Aiden (Liam Vincent) are all as nutty as $100 bags of M&Ms and we see their flaws in auctioneer images. Avery, for example, the eldest and once daddy's favorite (including being his chief target of abuse), speaks in the auctioneer's fast-lipped patois but is overcome with guilt and anger. She pounds her podium with her own hand instead of a gavel. Annalee is the organizer. She believes having an impossibly complicated filing system can keep things on an even keel, just as her sister Amelia must organize all items in complimentary groups to attempt to keep them in balance. Aiden both refinishes and ruins items -- some people like 'em clean and some like 'em dirty -- but in his private life he wants possession of no clutter whatsoever, including other humans.

As Arthur, who Alice Ainsley has hired to catalog her treasured keepsakes as her diminishing memory threatens to obliterate their histories, Gardner's performance is both off the wall and heartfelt. "Write quickly, Arthur," Alice keeps telling him. Shy and bookish at first, he gradually begins to understand this crazy family and allows us to take the journey with him.

Meredith McDonough's direction is razor sharp and the set is one of the best we've seen at Theatreworks in many years: a revolving three scene apparatus with Amelia's carriage house on one side, Annalee's office on the second, and the rest of the house, including Mom Alice's upstairs getaway and Aiden's basement, takes up the third. It really is inventive -- and characters are constantly walking up the stairs or through a door from one room to another as each new scene is rotated towards the audience.

We love this show. If the World Premiere was this good we should be lucky enough to be seeing the Ainsleys on many stages for a good long time.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Auctioning the Ainsleys" Four Stars. All the elements are here: surprise, story, acting, direction, set. We might quibble about Cliff Caruthers' rather annoying plinky-plunky keyboard music used to signal scene changes, but -- well, we just did, didn't we?

But the show is fabulous. It always starts with the writing and Laura Schellhardt is a gem. If the rest of the 2010-11 season can match this one we are all in for a series of great discoveries.

"Auctioning the Ainsleys"
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 8

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great show! Agree with everything the entire review, particularly the writing - except your quibble with the music. It was also original, and quite charming.