BWW Review: Taking Steps Brings Laughter and Life to CSUF

BWW Review: Taking Steps Brings Laughter and Life to CSUF
Front: Joe Stein, Back (Left to Right): Aaron Ford, Kira Jamison, and Casey Bowen
Photo by Jordan Kubat

Kicking off their Spring 2018 Season, California State University, Fullerton's Theater Department stepped their way into bringing a night full of laughter to CSUF with their hilarious production of Olivier and Tony Award winning playwright, Alan Ayckbourn's comedy, Taking Steps. This play revolves around the tycoon Roland Crabbe and his wife, Elizabeth, a dancer who longs to leave her husband but finds it hard to do so. In the mess of business transactions and lost love, the play also tells the story of the lawyer Tristram Watson, who finds it difficult to communicate and gets caught in a love triangle between Roland and Elizabeth, as well as her brother, Mark and his fiancée, Kitty. Directed by Mark Ramont, this CSUF production questions the parameters of life, love, and freedom through spirit, cleverness, and the most delightfully outrageous displays of comedy.

Upon entering the Hallberg Theater, the audience receives a first look at a beautifully made, straight-from-the-seventies set created by scenic designer Waylon Waters. The old, three-story, (and supposedly haunted) house in 1975 outside of London serves as the home of Elizabeth and Roland, as well as the center for miscommunication. The lights go up to reveal Elizabeth (Kira Jamison) and her brother, Mark (Casey Bowen), as he watches his sister write a "Goodbye, I'm leaving," letter to her husband. From the beginning, Jamison and Bowen play nothing short of the glorious I Love Lucy comedy that crowds love to love, as the audience learns that both Elizabeth and Mark have rocky romantic relationships. While deciding exactly when and how to leave her husband, Jamison brings to Elizabeth such an undeniable confidence that you can't help but to laugh at and root for her simultaneously. Trying to help his sister achieve what she wants, Bowen then wins the hearts of the audience as he tells his sister of his lost love for his runaway fiancé, Kitty (Darby Sorich). Bowen also brings a hilariousness to Mark as he gives his character such certainty that he is oblivious to his own troubling qualities, which everyone finds funny except himself. Bowen also becomes the first to showcase to the audience his spirted, staccato way of climbing up and down the steps of the house, climbing quickly between floors, into the attic, and down to the first, winning the audience's first big laugh.

While Elizabeth and Mark shuffle back and forth upstairs, on the first floor, the audience meets lawyer Tristram Watson, played by Aaron Ford. Ford's talent in playing Watson as though his only quality is his awkwardness shines through as his first entrance gains the audience's roars of laughter. Roland Crabbe, played by Joe Stein, then enters the scene to find Watson sitting alone in the dark. Stein's delightfully over-the-top performance of a man who works to make himself appear bigger than he is contrasts Ford's shy and timid presence. Their exchange at this first encounter is then followed by long, awkward silences in which Ford struggles in finding words to say - silence, which then becomes filled with the chuckles and giggles from around the room. Stein took Crabbe's character and heightened his outrageousness to such a point that audiences could no longer hold in their laughter, their laughs echoing his bold "HA's!"

As Crabbe and Watson then try to discuss the plans for purchasing the house Crabbe intends to buy, the audience meets Leslie Bainbridge, played by Andre Vernot, who quite effortlessly adds funny soul into the mix, revealing that his ambition for selling the house is all for his children. Vernot gives Bainbridge a clueless personality yet exuberant charm that ties up the ends of the creation of the comedic trio that keeps the show on its feet.

Separated by the floors of the house, Elizabeth makes an escape from her husband by leaving through the front door as Mark returns to bring home his fiancé Kitty, played by Darby Sorich. Sorich (who deserves endless praise for being shut away in a cabinet on the floor for much of the play) holds the life and vibrancy of the show, regardless of her quiet character. She delivers a stunningly real monologue on why running away from her marriage presents her with endless opportunities to live just for herself. Her effort in trying many times to escape down the steps from the attic and to the front door, but failing as the men constantly block out her path carry Ayckbourn's motif of taking opportunities and the steps to get there.

Waters' scenic design not only makes for a stunning set, but also emphasizes the title of the play as the stairs leading to the first floor and the attic are painted flat onto the floor. The characters' ways, unique to each of them, of climbing up the steps of this old house represent the steps they are taking - not wanting love, not wanting wealth - but wanting to somehow reach their fullest potentials. While both Kitty and Watson both leave the house in hopes of chasing what they want, the play ends with Elizabeth, who has previously decided to return to her husband, standing at the door about to leave the house once again, but stops after hearing Roland's laugh in the next room. She sighs in frustration at being torn between her husband and freedom, and the lights go down before the audience can tell if Elizabeth ever stepped foot outside or not. This brilliant, lively, and hilarious cast falls nothing short of the type of comedy that is so needed in a world like today. Constantly surrounded by the same questions about freedom that Taking Steps proposes from the dark corners of reality, CSUF's production to approach these questions in this light-hearted way, is undoubtedly the breath of fresh air and laughter that the world needs.

Taking Steps plays at 8pm on February 23, 24, March 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 and at 2pm on February 25, March 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18. General admission tickets are $14 ($12 with advance Titan Discount purchase for students, seniors or with a CSUF ID). All tickets are $14 at the door. Tickets are available by calling (657) 278-3371, 11am-5pm, Monday through Friday and online at: http://www.fullerton.edu/arts/theatre/events/td_productions.php

Show Artwork by Alvin Chiu

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