Monday, October 7, 2013

Theatre [502] Closes Its Third Season with “Auctioning the Ainsleys”

Leah Michelle Roberts and Erica McClure in
Auctioning the Ainsleys. Photo – Theatre [502].

 Auctioning the Ainsleys

By Laura Schellhardt
Directed By Amy Attaway

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Theatre [502] has made its reputation with productions of contemporary plays that are often moving the forms of modern playwriting in new directions. Auctioning the Ainsleys is a slight departure in that it operates within more traditional structures. As director Amy Attaway states in her program notes: “There is no violence, no sex, no explosion. No blood or flashing lights or fog or cigarettes or loud noises of any kind.”

Actually there was one instance of flashing lights, just a detail of a precise lighting design that effectively underscores the overly schematic structure of the play. The story tells us about the Ainsleys, a family whose business is estate auctions. The matriarch, Alice, has engaged an assistant, Arthur, to record the history and dysfuntionality of the family and has also decided to sell the house (which houses her and three of her four adult children) and all of its contents. Not surprisingly, this is upsetting to the siblings and results in the return of prodigal daughter Avery.

The first act moves quickly to establish the characters and their relationships to each other with wit and careful observation. Alice is certainly eccentric, her hold on reality in question, and Pat Allison’s performance explores this dynamic with great subtlety. Objects occupy an important role here, as each character’s possessions, or lack of them, are a measure of how they define themselves. Annalee (Cara Hicks) handles accounting from a desk that belonged to her deceased father; Amelia arranges items with OCD fastidiousness; while Aiden takes pains to be rid of possessions and polishes or, more often, distresses objects in preparation for auction. Avery, seen at first as a sort of Greek chorus before reentering the family home, uses a gloved hand instead of a gavel to close a sale.

These quirks trigger much of the humor, and the perfectly chosen cast make the most of them. Cara Hicks is appropriately anxious as Annalee; Erica McClure is nicely overwrought as Amelia; and Neil Robertson has the luck of the lines as Aiden, delivering his acerbic dialogue with a sharp timing emphasized by fluid and adept gestures that would be the undoing of many a lesser actor. Leah Roberts’ forceful work as Avery drives much of the action in the second act as she individually reacquaints herself with her siblings, but this is also where the difficulties arise. These scenes alternate with similar encounters between Arthur (a nicely academic Lucas Adams), and a sense of redundancy creeps into the play. Other repetitive elements, such as Aiden jokingly referring to Arthur as “knick-knack” or “fricassee” in every exchange, seem overused and emphasize the draining of economy in the latter part of the play, slowing down the waning moments of the story.

Fortunately, Ms. Attaway’s direction and the nimble playing go a long way in overcoming these problems. The schematic rigidity of the writing, reflected in all of the design work, does illustrate how trapped these characters are; and the questions of whether they will escape are approached with sense and clarity enough in the text, and even more so on the performance, so that, ultimately, this production is succeeds beautifully in realizing the playwright’s intention.

Auctioning the Ainsleys

October 5, 7, 10, 11 & 12, 2013
8 p.m.

Theatre [502] in the Victor Jory Theater
Actors Theatre of Louisville
Third & Main Streets
Louisville, KY 40202

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