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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 18 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 42
As sweet as it gets - Masterful Sugar Daddies is a theatrical treat not to be missed
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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As sweet as it gets - Masterful Sugar Daddies is a theatrical treat not to be missed

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

SUGAR DADDIES
ACT THEATRE
Through November 3


Our fair city has been graced with the presence of a master playwright, the world-renowned Alan Ayckbourn. He has been a prolific writer of comedies in England, and English-speaking companies around the world love to do them. He came here at the invitation of Kurt Beattie, artistic director of ACT Theatre, to direct his own play, Sugar Daddies.

The buzz about his manner as director was everything flattering that one would want to hear about a director: encouraging, giving, gracious, easygoing, open to actors' questions and input. He even felt ready to rework and tweak Sugar Daddies years after its initial premiere. With an exquisite cast of five, his bittersweet comedy attains the best quality of comedy writing: you never know what is going to happen next until it happens!

We meet a young country bumpkin of a girl, Sasha (Emily Chisholm), who has moved to the city and in with her older half-sister Chloe (Elinor Gunn) to go to culinary school. Her modest aspirations are to exceed her parents' roles of running a tea shop by running her own restaurant. Sasha's warm heart has led her to bring home a 'Santa' who has narrowly escaped being run over, and she tends to him with care.

Santa (Seán G. Griffin) seems like a lovely man, volunteering to entertain children at the local hospital. His appreciation for Sasha's kind attention starts with an enormous bouquet of flowers, and then a trip to the opera and a dress for that occasion, and then more. Chloe is perturbed by Sasha's trusting nature and warns her that people have a dark side. Sasha is determined to believe only the best about 'Uncle Val.'

Even when downstairs neighbor Ashley (John Patrick Lowrie) tries to add to the cautionary messages, Sasha shuts him down. She seems to be enjoying the presents, the dinners, the discounts Val helps her receive from other women in his life on dresses and jewelry, etc. Val seems content to give this kind of largesse to her with only a request for her company, not pulling the relationship into some sordid sexual realm.

WHAT'S THE CATCH?
Once the entire apartment is made over, with the help of a (courtesan-turned?) decorator, Charmaine (Anne Allgood), we are completely uncertain how far this all can go. While it has all been fairly amusing up to this point, we are aware that there is real danger here. Whether it's emotional or psychological or physical is hard to say.

There are layers and layers here - the vulnerability of the young, the desire to believe the best of everyone, women's dependence on male validation to feel good about themselves, the desire of a man with a long history to bask in the simple beliefs of a young woman's esteem - yet it is quite humorous and an enjoyable production.

Chisholm has shown herself in many productions around town to be a consummate actor who throws herself into roles and makes what she does look so easy that it downplays her technical abilities. Her tiny transformations and changes in attitude are the main focus of the play, and she is almost always present on stage. She is the perfect presence to drive the actions in this story.

Griffin matches her toe-to-toe. His transformation from Scene One's befuddled Santa to Scene Two's confident Uncle Val is one of the best parts of the play.

Technical support is also, as usual for ACT, wonderful. Matthew Smucker's set makes a marvelously ugly change from Act One to Act Two, and that's a compliment. It's part of the fun. Deb Trout's costumes, which Chisholm often tugs down in discomfort, also add to the garish fashion that her character adopts. Lighting by Rick Paulsen and sound from Brendan Patrick Hogan also help create this one-set living-room ambiance of apartment living.

Writer-director Ayckbourn knows exactly what he wants from his actors and expects them to provide it. This is a wonderful evening of story and subtext. If you were able to divine how the play ends well before its conclusion, please write sgncritic@gmail.com and tell me what gave it away for you. For more information, go to www.acttheatre.org or call (206) 292-7676.

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