Ayckbourn is baaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!! This is pronounced Ache-born. Ache as in you will laugh so hard you will ache, and ‘born” as in you will have wild intakes of breath when you see bits of life get born in front of you. Thus Ache-born.
In this American premiere – part of Brits Off Broadway – My Wondeful Day begins when a nine-year-old child, Winnie (Ayesha Antoine) comes to work with her mother on a Tuesday morning. The explanation for this flows trippingly off the tongue as said mother, Laverne (Petra Letang) and Winnie follow the Master of the House, Kevin Tate (Terence Booth) down long hallways and through the rooms of an enormous apartment oh so cleverly staged in the tiny accommodations at 59East59th Street. The Master isn’t listening to Laverne, and neither are we because we are having a wonderful time on this wonderful day just watching the characters reveal themselves. Kevin is retreating. Laverne is pursuing. Winne is listening and assessing.
Having been deposited on a settee with instructions to be quiet and not get ink on the furniture, Winnie begins to write her homework assignment, “My Wonderful Day”. Her very pregnant mother is off to clean the rest of the apartment with a strict reminder that today is Tuesday – their En Français day. No exceptions if you please, because Winnie must be prepared to speak French when they move back to Martinique, the home of Laverne’s parents. This will happen once her new brother Jericho Alexander Samuel arrives. From the look of Laverne this could be a-n-y m-i-n-u-t-e.
Before something as mundane as a birth can happen however, Winnie is treated to a host of audio/visual treats. Mr. Tate, regretful that he missed the opportunity to push his wife out the window the evening before, strides about the apartment making calls and using colorful language. With his wife absent, he invites his co-worker/lover over “to work”. Tiffany Cavendish (Ruth Gibson) a young woman looking for love in all the wrong places, arrives at the apartment with the latest company promotional DVD hot off the press. In order to pass the time while waiting for The Master, she enlists Winnie to watch a preview of the DVD, into which the famous Mrs. Tate has inserted a spot of her own that is less than flattering to her husband and downright cruel to his mistress. When the deed is uncovered, Josh (Paul Kemp) the valued business associate, shows up to help create a plan of action when there really isn’t one.
While Winnie’s mother is cleaning the apartment, this trio carries on in front of Winnie, alternately treating her like a small child with a hearing defect or ignoring her altogether. On the few occasions that Winnie does speak, she mostly does so in French, which adds a layer of confusion to the mix. When Winnie’s little brother decides to be born early, Laverne is sent off to the hospital and the adults are left to tend to this strange quiet child who seems to be doing nothing but writing in her notebook.
Writing she is. This day is her Wonderful Day, and Winnie is noting every single moment, from the time she wakes until the time Mrs. Tate returns to the apartment, finds Mr. Tate and Ms. Cavendish in flagrante delicto, dispatches them both and whisks Winnie off to the hospital and Laverne.
Like The Norman Conquests, which played here this summer, MY WONDERFUL DAY is all about life’s minutiae. Nothing happens, and everything happens. In this case, the minutia that happens is being filtered through the eyes of a 9 year old. The conceit works because Ayckbourn writes not only words but the silences between them. Winnie’s listening is every bit as action packed as the events she is watching and we are easily drawn to this child, exquisitely played by Antoine, through Ayckbourn’s writing.
What could easily be an ordinary day becomes Winnie’s Wonderful Day and our Wonderful Experience. This is particularly evident in the scenes between Winnie and Josh, who, in the hands of Paul Kemp is both ludicrous and innocent. Left alone in the kitchen, the two of them are uneasy and awkward. Words stumble out like sticky pieces of cotton until the scene wanders itself into a lonely alley where Josh, thinking Winnie doesn’t understand English, speaks of his deep love for his own daughter who he gets to see on the weekends. A few scenes later, back in the same room, both try and steal food from one another. Adult vs. Nine-Year-Old: hilarious and heartbreaking.
Ayckbourn is able to take life and jiggle it around until pieces separate, sparkle, and then come together in a new configuration. Like unraveling a sweater and knitting it into a different piece of clothing, what was once an unnoticed shape becomes something new that catches our eye. And isn’t that why we go to the theatre? To see life with new eyes, to hear its song with new ears, to feel the texture of the air with new skin?
As a writer and director, Ayckbourn is pure nectar.
BEN BRANTLEY for NEW YORK TIMES says, "Charming, rueful new comedy."
ELISABETH VINCENTELLI for NEW YORK POST says, "Not very much happens during the first 80 minutes."
ERIK HAAGENSEN for BACK STAGE says, "Offers some hearty laughs and a gently bruised heart."
JENNIFER FARRAR for ASSOCIATED PRESS says, "Witty, thoughtful farce."
DAVID ROONEY for VARIETY says, "Achingly funny new play."