Story: Henry Pulling has retired early from business and pretty much from life as well in 1969. The solitary former banking executive takes solace in his dahlia garden, but even that fails to stir passion in his barren soul. All of that changes abruptly, however, when he meets his late mother’s sister Augusta at the former’s funeral. Quickly, Aunt Augusta thrusts her forceful personality upon her timid nephew and soon has cajoled him into joining her on various adventures around the globe.
It becomes apparent to Henry that Aunt Augusta has packed quite a lot of living, lust and perhaps even larceny into her 75 years. He finds himself somewhat reluctantly acting as a go-between and novice smuggler, first in England and then on to Paris, Istanbul and South America as Augusta searches for an ongoing flame named Visconti, a shadowy man with a shady past of dark dealings with Nazis. Can the sedentary Henry fit into such an environment?
Highlights: British novelist Graham Greene filled his many 20th century novels, screenplays and short stories with tales of intrigue and espionage, often with a sprinkling of humor. Scottish actor and dramatist Giles Havergal adapted Greene’s 1969 novel Travels with My Aunt into a rather unorthodox play two decades later.
Havergal has four actors assume the roles of more than two dozen characters in the course of the drama’s two acts. His effort has been performed occasionally in the 23 years since its 1989 debut in Glasgow, and now is enjoying a revival by Act Inc., the oldest of three theater companies in America “dedicated to reviving lost gems of theatre history,” as described in program notes.
Other Info: Unfortunately, this production is pretty much dead on arrival, with few moments of resuscitation that follow. Havergal’s bizarre decision to have a quartet of male actors assay all the roles, including the title character, is questionable at best and a creaking, groaning exercise in tedium under Emily Jones’ stolid direction.
While each of the players is able to showcase his versatility and talents, such abilities are wasted on a story that is uninvolving from dull start to lifeless finish. It certainly lacks the charisma of Maggie Smith, who portrayed Aunt Augusta in the 1972 film version. It also misses a quick tempo, charming core or compelling tale to tell in its two-and-a-half-hour journey to nowhere. Additionally, setting this boring exercise in the round seems only to exacerbate its weaknesses.
Katie Donovan’s costumes provide a nice touch, as each of the performers is attired in your basic dull black suit with non-descript bowler hat, white shirt and red tie, matching Henry’s anonymous existence.
Michael Sullivan’s lighting also adds a flair here and there to accentuate occasional points of interest in the plot, and Liz Hopefl’s properties essentially comprise the set as the actors utilize suitcases, boxes, wigs and various tchotchkes to package scenes. The sound design by Sarah Thompson is another plus as she cleverly conveys a train station or a foreign locale through a shrewd selection of sounds.
Paul Cereghino plays just two roles, as one of the Henrys and as Aunt Augusta, but he brings a convincing charm and flair to the latter role with just the addition of a fiery red wig and a liberal dose of hand gestures. His imperious portrayal of Henry’s adventurous free spirit of a relative is a saving grace of this presentation.
Michael Juncal does well as Augusta’s black servant and lover Wordsworth and is agreeable in a number of other brief portrayals as well. Jonathon Morgan is the least colorful of the quartet, whether playing Henry’s distant glimmer of affection Miss Keene or an unconvincing Visconti, while Jake Ferree brings some welcome spark to the goings-on as a cocky Cockney cabbie, a bailing Irish wolfhound or a dubious CIA agent.
Someone at Act Inc. decided that Travels with My Aunt is a “lost gem of theater history.” Perhaps, though, it’s been lost for a reason.
Play: Travels with My Aunt
Group: Act Inc.
Venue: Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, Big Bend at Wydown
Dates: June 14, 15, 16, 17
Tickets: $20; contact 725-9108 or www.actinc.biz
Rating: A 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb