Review: ‘Mr. a’s Amazing Maze Plays’

The story centers on Suzy, a girl about that age, and her dog, Neville, a big , shaggy mutt she says is a pedigreed Old English Wolf Boxer, growing up together in a small English village in the early part of the century.

The story centers on Suzy, a girl about that age, and her dog, Neville, a big , shaggy mutt she says is a pedigreed Old English Wolf Boxer, growing up together in a small English village in the early part of the century.

Suzy’s mother is warmhearted, hard-working and apparently a widow, since her balloonist husband went up years ago and hasn’t been seen since. Nothing else is extraordinary except for Mother’s speech. She’s well educated but quirkily puts extra, rhyming syllables into words.

Ayckbourn tosses this in with no explanation. And while the peculiarity is mildly amusing at first, it quickly becomes tiresome and seems to fall into that vast category of Ayckbourn Humor That Doesn’t Transfer Across the Big Pond.

Anyway, into the big house across the street comes Mr. A, for Accousticus, who doesn’t fool Suzy or Neville with his neighborly behavior.

Cursed with too-sensitive hearing, he craves silence (Accousticus — get it?) , so he’s devised a way to capture voices and sounds. He starts with the singing neighborhood drunk, then takes the birds’ chirping and — horrors — Neville’s bark.

While foolish Mother entertains him at dinner, Suzy and Neville sneak over to his place to find the missing noises — er, sounds.

And thus we come to another gimmick. Mr. A.’s house is full of passages and, consequently, choices.

Whenever Suzy faces a choice, the lights come up and the audience votes which way she should go. Supposedly, this justifies the tongue-twisting title and makes each presentation of the play different. If so, it’s a difference without distinction.

Maybe “Maze Plays” would play better on a larger stage, with more pronounced choices, and not in the round. Given those limitations, Craig Noel’s staging, carried out with a capable cast and a top-notch tech team, has attempted to add substance to the fairytale fare.

For Jeff Ladman, this production is a sound designer’s dream, highlighted by the cacophony from the cabinet containing stolen sounds.

Greg Lucas did the crowded set, and Michael Gilliam’s lighting serves well. Clare Henkel’s costuming is appropriate.

Hugus captures the little-girl expressions and moves, and Lynne Griffin enunciates Mother’s speech defect with elan. For those, however, who don’t find great and repeated pleasure in hearing words like “hooligooligans” or “flatteratterer,” there’s little to delight in except Sean Sullivan’s terrific performance as Neville.

Theoretically, Suzy’s choices mean that no two shows are alike, so patrons can come back and see a different version. Not likely.

Mr. a's Amazing Maze Plays

(Cassius Carter Theater, San Diego; 225 seats; $ 32 top)

Production

The Old Globe Theater presents the U.S. premiere of a fantasy in two acts by Alan Ayckbourn; director, Craig Noel.

Creative

Scenic design, Greg Lucas; costume design, Clare Henkel; lighting, Michael Gilliam; sound, Jeff Ladman. Opened Jan. 22, 1994; reviewed Jan. 25; runs through March 6.

Cast

1st Narrator ... Ralph Elias 2nd Narrator ... Katherine McGrath Suzy ... Jennifer Hugus Mother ... Lynne Griffin Neville ... Sean Sullivan Father ... Steve Jones Mr. Passerby ... Richard Easton Accousticus ... Jonathan McMurtry Alan Ayckbourn wrote "Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays" for young audiences at his Theater in the Round in Scarborough, England, and supposedly revised it to add appeal for older patrons. It needs a few more runs through the word processor if it's going to charm theatergoers older than 11.
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