Travels with My Aunt
adapted for the stage from Graham Greene's novel by Giles Havergal
directed by David Dean Bottrell
through December 18
For those who like their theatre, like their literature, deliciously different, look no further than Travels with My Aunt, adapted by Giles Havergal from Graham Greene's novel, now onstage at the Colony Theatre. Packed with internationally political intrigue and perilous crime-laden adventures, ...Aunt follows Aunt Augusta (Mark Capri) as she seizes an opportunity to rescue her former bank teller, now bored florist nephew Henry (Thomas James O'Leary) from his humdrum life after the death of his mother. If it sounds akin to Auntie Mame, you're not far off track. Mame marches to the tune of her own drummer, and so does Augusta. It takes Henry longer to loosen up than Patrick in Mame, but eventually he does lose his tourist status through the journeys to Paris, Rome, Istanbul as well as to Paraguay and other places in South America. All the characters are played by four actors: the aforementioned Capri and O'Leary, as well as Larry Cedar and Sybyl Walker. A major treat in the proceedings is playfulness through transgender and also across racial lines. Meaning in simple terms that the men play women as well as men, the female actress essays male characters as well as female; a white man plays a black man and a black woman a mesh of white people. Sound interesting? It is. Yet somehow, in spite of all this fun, I found myself enjoying the play less than I thought I should. Why?
I could not pinpoint one specific thing. David Dean Bottrell moves the piece along with a sweeping pace, and every time Cedar appeared as Augusta's servant/lover Wordsworth or Walker appeared as the toothless Visconti, international smuggler and other lover of Augusta, I was in stitches. When these characters were absent, there was a parade of other people, some less colorful by nature. Yes, true, Cedar plays a man named Conley and Walker his young daughter, who show up on opposite sides of the world and these are assuredly fun as well, so what is missing? Mmmm...curious... When I first heard Capri speak as Augusta, I heard tones of Lady Bracknel from The Importance of Being Ernest, but she's far too stuffy, hardly bearing the flamboyance of an Auntie Mame, so I forced myself to look closer and saw perhaps a bit of restraint, but all good actors are guilty of that from time to time, so Capri must be judged for his own originality in interpretation, and overall he works terribly skillfully. After all, Augusta is Augusta, and Mame, Mame and perhaps I was taking the comparison too far. This can happen when one stretches one's imagination, as Aunt requires you to do. Then it dawned on me. I must say I believe I was reading far too much in and expected much too much.
There's plenty of comedy here, especially from the brilliant Cedar and versatile Walker, and the whole plot with its unpredictability is not unlike a delightfully eccentric, off-kilter roller coaster ride. Don't do as I did! Expect less and enjoy Travels with My Aunt from moment to moment, as it should be experienced. It's simplistic, imaginative, one-of-a-kind storytelling. And its intelligent, funny lines about living (Auntie Mame's "Life's a banquet" certainly does apply), smuggling (described criminally as a business coup) and including some priceless jabs at constantly crumbling South American countries ("Every day we live will seem a victory") make me want to run right out and buy the script.