Wildest Dreams English playwright Alan Ayckbourn writes plays with a proficiency that is almost freakish. His latest, set for this August, is his 77th. Knighted in 1997, Sir Alan has had a distinguished career encompassing a double-wide bookcase filled with every prestigious theater award. Without question, he is a man of the theater, tossing off quirky, intriguing, utterly imaginative pieces with deftness and sublime technique. Wildest Dreams (1991), his 42nd play, in a thoroughly beguiling production from Company OnStage, is intimate in scale, but its themes run deep; it's a comedy on its face. At first glance you don't know quite how to take it, which is classic Ayckbourn. First, there's the set — three in one, actually. To our right is a nondescript living room, home to nondescript married Stanley and Hazel (Mark Jones and Elyse Rachal). To the left is an ill-painted, dingy room with fold-up cot, strewn with crumpled food containers and an assortment of garbage everywhere — this is the basement home of Rick (Stephanie Fisherman-Kelso), just as crumpled. Upstage on a platform perches a tiny, messy bedroom, dominated by the light from a computer screen and miles of electric cords — nerdy Warren's command center. Warren believes he's an alien. These four mismatched people come alive while role-playing a fantasy game that Warren's invented. We won't find out much about the game they're obsessed with, but we'll learn all about this quartet's fantasies here on Earth. Into their drab, fantasy-filled lives comes Marcie (Rebecca Johnson-Edgerly), who's run away from abusive husband Larry (Micah Taylor). Her appearance — she's clear-eyed and spouts whatever she thinks to whomever she's talking to, whatever the consequences — is the catalyst for momentous change. She brings renewed romantic vigor to Stanley, mind-cracking jealousy to Hazel, blossoming strength to Rick and a reason to live to Warren, who sees in her a free-spirited extraterrestrial. Wishful thinking, all well and good at the beginning, takes all of them to places they never sought to go. Reality is just as fragile as make-believe in Ayckbourn's skewed world, and some people aren't meant to go there either. Dealing honestly with life's unblinking facts is hard enough for anyone, but these forlorn game players have opened a Pandora's box. It's all quite funny in a sad sort of way, classic Ayckbourn. Under Stacy Bakri's spirited direction, Ayckbourn's surprises come at you with startling immediacy. The ensemble is mighty good, especially Fisherman-Kelso as butch Rick, who comes out of her shell only to fall into another one; Geoffrey Geiger as the nerdiest of nerds; and Johnson-Edgerly as the fresh breeze that blows the cobwebs away, spinning new ones as she goes. It's all wonderfully fresh. Through June 8. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square. 713-726-1219. — DLG

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