By Graham Greene
Adapted for the stage by Giles Havergal
Directed by Stuart Carden
At Writers’ Theatre at the Books on Vernon stage, Glencoe
Acting tour de force by four makes Greene’s novel come to life.
A delightfully smart 1969 British novel, Travels with My Aunt, comes to life through four skilled actors: Sean Fortunato, John Hoogenakker, LaShawn Banks, and Jeremy Sher. These talents each rotate playing Henry Pulling, a mild-mannered retired British banker who’d rather prune his Dahlias than live adventurously. These four combine to play more than 25 characters as Greene’s novel comes to life. All four are dressed alike in navy blue pinstripes complete with a vest and a derby hat. Adapter Giles Havergal used the four person concept in Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theater’s production of Travels. That device was smartly utilized by director Stuart Carden as he shrewdly cast Sean Fortunato to play Aunt Augusta – Henry’s 75 year old horny aunt while John Hoogenakker adds the teenage girl, Tooley and LaShawn Banks plays Wordsworth, Aunt Augusta’s lover and Jeremy Sher adds his foley art to his playing of the Girl in Jodhpurs. Remember, each also moves swiftly and effectively from Henry Pulling to other characters with an instant gesture and a tone inflection. Acting skills are put to the test here with terrific results. You’ll not find a foursome more adapt at storytelling and character presentations than this marvelous cast. The story begins with Henry, the 55 year old reserved nerdy banker, attending his mothers funeral in 1969. His Aunt Augusta, who he has not seen in decades, appears at the funeral. She has mysterious information about his past. Aunt Augusta is eccentric, outrageous, commanding, and enticing. Henry is drawn from his safe and boring life to her invitation to travel to exotic places for a dose of mysterious adventure. The two and a half hour adventure is filled amazing acting by the four talents as they swiftly tell Aunt Augusta’s adventures on the Orient Express to Istanbul and eventually to Argentina and Paraguay. The four actors switch identities, nationalities, ages, races and genders while returning often to playing Henry Pulling. I was impressed by the instant turn of characters that never slowed down the action nor confused us as to what was happening. The outstanding versatility of theses four made for a fun evening of theatre. Director Stuart Carden’s blocking and staging added clarity. My problem with Travels With My Aunt came from the overwhelming length and complexity of the story. A major cut is need here. The show simply wears us out, kind of like a interesting dinner guest who over stays his welcome. You’ll have to listen closely to translate some of the British idioms and terms employed. The deft accents were spot on as were the clever foley art sound effects nicely performed by Jeremy Sher. This adventurous comedy is an actors platform that almost overwhelms us with their craft and energy. Lovers of theatre and aspiring actors need to experience this polished production to understand the power of the live stage. This wacky journey is an unforgettable treat.
At Writers’ Theatre, 664 Vernon Ave, Glencoe, IL (at the Books on Vernon), tickets $45 – $60. call 847-242-6000, Tuesdays 7 Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, call for special holiday performances, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through March 27, 2010
Here are clips from the Writers’ production: