Arts and Entertainment

WICA tackles challenging, comic ‘Norman’ in three shows

'The Norman Conquests' cast includes Gail Liston, Phil Jordan, Julia Tewksbury, David Mayer, Laura Persaud, and Michael Morgen. Set design is by Tyler Raymond and David Gignac, inspired by Sean Fannings design.
— image credit: Steve Ford photo


Whidbey Island Center for the Arts takes on a monumental project: Staging Alan Ayckbourn’s comic trilogy “The Norman Conquests.”

Three plays, “Table Manners,” “Living Together,” “Round and Round the Garden,” each set in a different room of an English country house, and each telling a variation on the same story, provide a challenge, even for WICA’s stable of talented and creative play producers.

WICA is staging all three works in weekend repertory, and once in an all-day “Trilogy Saturday” marathon.

“The Norman Conquests” is directed by Andrew Grenier and opens Friday, June 7, continuing through June 22.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees. “Trilogy Saturday,” June 22, all three plays will be presented on the stage in repertoire.

The mind-bending 1973 work, a hit in its 2009 Broadway revival, takes its name not from musty British history but from its two-timing (maybe three-timing) central character, Norman.

Producing and directing three plays in repertoire is quite an undertaking for the cast and crew: Six actors, three sets, three plays and eight days.

“It’s both wildly ambitious and a totally diabolical plot to drive actors, directors, stage managers, designers, etc., completely mad,” said director Grenier in a release. “But it’s also a great, fun challenge. There’s no other theater in this area that has taken on this challenge. The courage of the cast and crew to embrace this trilogy is tremendous.”

The top-drawer cast was assembled by Grenier, who also helmed last season’s expertly orchestrated “Doubt” and “God of Carnage.”

The cast features David Mayer as Norman, Phil Jordan as Reg, Michael Morgen as Tom, Gail Liston as Sarah, Laura Persaud as Annie and Julia Tewksbury as Ruth.

Clever British playwright Ayckbourn gives theater-goers a view at the same events from the perspective of different locations rather than different people.

Ayckbourn’s characters move between the garden, the living room and the dining room, and we see in each play only what occurs in those venues.

When someone moves from the living room to the dining room, the actor is moving to another play.

“Seeing one play is enough to understand the script. Seeing all of them deepens your sense of the characters and understanding of their connections, and provides three times the laughs,” Grenier said.

Norman, a librarian stuck in his own personal erotica section, romances three separate women at an English country house one frantic July weekend. Annie owns the house and lives there as caretaker to her aging mother. Sarah is visiting with her husband, Reg.

Annie, Reg, and Ruth are siblings, and Ruth also happens to be married to Norman. Toss in Tom, Annie’s goodhearted veterinarian neighbor who doesn’t know he’s supposed to be in love with Annie, and you have what Grenier describes as “a deliciously tangled setup for a raucous romp.”

“The plays can be seen in any order. That being said, we are doing them in the order that Ayckbourn presented them, Grenier said.

The cast will perform all three in one day June 22, “Trilogy Saturday,” with shows at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

“It’ll be a roller-coaster ride for actor and audience alike and promises to be a hoot,” said Grenier.

However, any of the three plays provide a generous glimpse into a gleefully torrid little world. Three plays with six characters present infinite possibilities.

Each play sheds light on one of Norman’s conquests: “Garden” shows Norman’s genuine affection for Annie — dismissed, scoffed at, and trampled on by Sarah in “Table Manners.”

The depth of Ruth and Norman’s connection is displayed — on the floor, on a brown faux-fur rug — in “Living Together.”

Manners bind Norman and Sarah together, figuratively and literally. As a result, which play one chooses to see first will greatly affect one’s opinion of all the characters, but especially Norman, and how much sympathy to offer this very flawed character.

“The perfection of Conquests’ construction isn’t evident until you view all three — each a slice of a single weekend-in-the-country life cut from three spots. It’s masterful; an impenetrable dramaturgical fortress. Not a crack to be found,” said Grenier.

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