My Wonderful Day at Main Street Theater: Truly a Wonderful Play

Read our interview with director Jonathan Gonzalez.

The setup:

British playwright Alan Ayckbourn (House and Garden, Norman Conquests, Absurd Person Singular) is so prolific, he writes plays like we use the ATM machine. This recent comedy, in a marvelously entertaining production from Main Street Theater, is a beauty.

The execution:

Ayckbourn is a sly and most genial writer, filling his works with little surreal observations that look at life with a decidedly skewed glance. His plays aren't necessarily sharp and angry, but filled with tiny edges that cut. Meanwhile, he keeps us laughing at the follies of people who should know better.

My Wonderful Day is simplicity itself. Nine-year-old Winnie (Brittny Bush) accompanies her very pregnant mom (Florence Garvey) to work at the townhouse of TV star Kevin (Justin Doran). While Mom cleans, Winnie must finish her homework assignment that is due tomorrow, an essay called "My Wonderful Day." Mom warns her to be on her best behavior and keep out of everyone's way. Should be easy, right? Not in this house and not with these people.

As a minor complication and a clever author's device, today is Tuesday, Winnie's day to speak French. (One of Mom's dreams is to move her family to Martinique once the baby is born. Winnie doesn't seem to believe this, but Mom is adamant.) Winnie's apparent lack of English drives the play, as everyone talks in front of her as if she weren't really there. What should be just an ordinary day becomes quite extraordinary as the adults behave just like the spoiled kids they are. Throughout, Winnie keeps scribbling in her notebook.

Kevin is ego-driven and nasty to all, out for fame and a quickie with his obtuse secretary Tiffany (Lindsay Ehrhardt) while wife Paula (Carolyn Johnson) is away. Kevin's friend, sad-sack Josh (Thomas Prior), arrives to tell Kevin that his recent DVD release for a television show has been sabotaged by Paula, who has inserted herself into it along with the news that she knows all about Tiffany, or the "pudgy strumpet." The DVDs have been sent out to clients everywhere. Meanwhile, everyone confesses their own desires and hopes to little Winnie, who really is trying to keep out of the way, but they -- and life -- keep barging in.

Seen from Winnie's perspective, the play is utterly beguiling, and much is done with conversations she overhears from the next room, whether kitchen, bedroom or office. Craig Seanor's sound design is crisp and atmospheric. The play has its own quiet rhythm, on its own terms, that always keeps us as focused as Winnie.

The cast is perfect, catching just the right tone of exasperation for this gentle farce. Bush is lovely as young Winnie, who starts out being a sounding board for others but then must join in the fracas when Paula arrives unexpectedly to find Kevin and Tiffany romping in the bedroom. She's a natural at playing a kid. (Startlingly, she has a B.A. from the University of Houston, so obviously Miss Bush is no kid. Could have fooled me!)

Garvey, fresh from her searing portrayal of a drug-doomed mother in Back Porch Players' In the Blood, radiates another type of mom here: sincere, kind, loving. She has her wild dreams, too, that keep her going, but it's all for the best. Doran, as egoist Kevin, is full of star magic of the worst kind; we can't turn away from his outbursts and those steely eyes that can turn one to stone.

Prior is appropriately rumpled as woebegone Josh, who's given a lovely, rueful little aria to Winnie about his daughter that says everything about his life that has crashed and burned. Ehrhardt, clicking away on her high-heeled boots, is fabulously out-of-it as bimbo Tiffany, whose feminine instincts go into overdrive when she's confessing to Winnie. She's the comic foil in all this, and her dewy beauty and fresh-faced innocence complement her sweet amorality. Johnson, as volcanic Paula, who vows to Winnie she won't explode, turns on a comic dime when she finds two-timing Kevin entwined with Tiffany. She, too, gets softened by Winnie, but not for long.

The verdict:

Director Jonathan Gonzalez gives Ayckbourn the sitcom energy needed but also keeps the more gentle moments front and center. This observant play about adults acting poorly is a little gem, full of wry comments that catch you up when least expected. Truthful and comic, My Wonderful Day is truly a wonderful play.

Alan Ayckbourn's comedy runs through June 17 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. Purchase tickets online at the company Web site or call 713-524-6706. Tickets are $20 to $40.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover