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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
INTIMATE EXCHANGES
at 59E59 Theaters

UP IN A PUFF OF SMOKE
By Matt Windman

  Alan Ayckbourn

At first glance, it looked like a challenge meant for the advanced theatergoer. But sitting through any or all of Intimate Exchanges, Alan Ayckbourn's interconnected eight-piece saga now headlining the 2007 Brits-Off-Broadway Festival at 59E59, could be the most fun that any of us have at the theater this summer.

When theater critics were first invited to attend any or all of Intimate Exchanges, we were informed that each of the individual eight plays would run around 90 minutes. But when we arrived at the show, before each performance, an usher always informed us that the show would run two hours. But in reality, each lasted around two-and-half hours.

Not only that, it was not at first clear how much overlap existed between each of the eight plays. All of them began with the same moment - frustrated housewife Celia Teasdale, who has been vainly attempting to instruct her idiotic young maid, comes out of her home, onto the patio, takes a breath of relief, and then suddenly eyes a cigarette on the table. Will she smoke it? Half the plays proceeded with her smoking it, leading to a thirty-minute scene, and the other four plays proceeded with her not smoking it, followed by a different thirty minute scene. From then on, the plays continued to divide. The second half of Act One could consist of any one of four scenes, meaning that every two plays shared the same one.

Keeping all of this in mind, what made the critics keep returning, in mass, to view at least the majority of the Intimate Exchanges saga? True, each of the plays had an individual Act Two, but why did we put up with the rampant repetition of Act One? To be frank, we got attached to the characters, all of which were played by the dexterous Bill Champion and Claudia Elmhirst. For even as we watched that opening scene again and again, having seen Celia Teasdale engage in a wholly different adventure the other night in another play, we became more attuned to the subtextual cues, to the mere movement of her performance.

Which were our favorite characters? I think we'd all agree that schoolmaster, alcoholic and all around pessimist Toby Teasdale was the funniest character thanks to his delicious dose of sarcasm, best seen in the top ten list he delivers to his wife explaining why he has taken to drinking his worries away. Champion, however, created a more compelling character out of Miles Coombes, suffering from the shame of his wife's notoriously open infidelity. (She's done it with any member of Miles' squash team; or, as another character puts it, she'll do it with anyone who owns a racket).

However, I believe it is Elmhirst's Celia that is the heart and soul of this production of Intimate Exchanges. Not counting her husband, she receives romantic solicitations from both Miles and the idiotic Lionel Hepplewick. Perhaps we kept attending the show because we grew to care about her, wondering where life would lead her in her next adventure.

 


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