|Emily Chisholm - close up|
Photo: LaRae Lobdell
This intelligent and hilarious play, written and directed by the acclaimed Sir Alan Ayckbourn, runs Tuesday through Sunday through October, ending on Nov. 3. It was number 64 of 77 plays by the award-winning London-born playwright and director. It is also his tenth to be produced at ACT, beginning with Relatively Speaking in 1976. Ayckbourn honors the theater, the cast, and the audiences by coming to Seattle to direct the American premiere of Sugar Daddies himself, using local actors.
Expect to laugh much of the time. This play will catch you off guard, engage and hold your attention, and deliver lines of sharp humor at such a pace it would seem a blitz of pure comedy if not for its somber undertones. There is something for everyone when it comes to truths or traits we have each experienced or observed at some time, hopefully not in ourselves. Issues of power, control, deception (including self-deception), insecurity, aggression, submission, denial, fear, and the overriding need for love all surface in this play.
Emily Chisholm and Seán Griffin drinking
Photo: Chris Bennion
The story centers around a naïve and rather nauseatingly sunny college student named Sasha (Emily Chisholm) who shares a London flat with her older half-sister Chloe (Elinor Gunn). The ambitions Sasha states seem a bit too ambitious for the girl we see, but we can’t help but hope for the best for one so blindly positive. Then we watch Sasha lose her naiveté.
The story begins during the winter holidays in London, when she brings home—from the street corner where she found him—a man named Val (Seán G. Griffin), old enough to be her grandfather and dressed up as Father Christmas, an icon of her youth and still magical to her. After having witnessed him being nearly run down by a car (perhaps for good reason, we later learn), she has taken pity on the old fellow and brought him back to her place to rest and assess his condition. He claims a bad heart and knee. Chloe returns to the flat to discover this unlikely guest and is horrified to see that Sasha would be so foolish.
|Emily Chisholm and Elinor Gunn|
Photo: Chris Bennion
Nothing Val says seems anything less than appreciative and polite. He doesn’t even stay long, but before he leaves, he scrutinizes the flat and the girls’ possessions when no one is looking. There’s another side to him, one the audience will gradually see revealed. Sasha’s sweetness and innocence charm him and close friendship develops, seemingly devoid of sexual intimacy but certainly heavy on all the “Sugar Daddy” trappings that come with strings attached. Those stings are obligation, submission to control, and pressure for Sasha to please Val and be the person he seems to want her to be. The expensive florist bouquet that arrives shortly after their initial meeting is only the first in an endless stream of extravagant gifts and outings that will change Sasha forever.Sugar Daddies focuses on an aspect of human nature often denied; people are not necessarily what they seem to be and frequently behave in ways they believe are expected of them. Personal motives shape all human interactions, even though they may well be subconscious. The play also points out that humans view others in the way they want to see them, the way that reinforces or validates the viewers’ personal motives. Just as the characters in this play are not always who they seem to be, neither are their motives always what they appear to be. Faced with the difficulty and effort involved in maintaining false fronts, people eventually become their true selves again and we see hints, at least, of the complicated, flawed, yearning, and sometimes surprisingly pathetic creatures they are.
|John Patrick Lowrie and Seán Griffin and Emily Chisholm|
Photo: Chris Bennion
Under Val’s gentlemanly exterior we sense something sinister. Already on in a suspicious mindset, we initially distrust the girls’ downstairs neighbor, Ashley (John Patrick Lowrie). Sasha’s half-sister Chloe demonstrates low self-esteem in her relationship with an unseen beau, in spite of her supposed maturity and sophistication. Val’s old “friend” Charmaine (Anne Allgood)—one of countless women now in his debt for reasons never exactly reveled—shows a spirited nature that shrivels in the face of his reprimands. Even Sasha surprises us.
Through innuendo, tension, gesture, tone of voice, humor, and a brilliant script, Ayckbourn employs these characters to communicate some profound truths. He lets no one get away with anything. Finally stripped bare of pretension, their problems, weaknesses, and even their strengths stand naked before us. Could we each face the same in our own bedroom mirrors?Treat yourself to Sugar Daddies. The acting, scenic design and all other aspects certainly achieve the high standards I have come to expect from ACT, all being excellent. You will never have laughed so hard, or uneasily, before.
ACT-A Contemporary Theatre is located at 700 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101
Ticket Office Phone: (206) 292-7676
Information on special events (discussions and a tasting) related to Sugar Daddies