After playwright J.M. Barrie created the eternally youthful Peter Pan, he continued to deal with the subjects of aging and relative maturity in his comedy “Alice Sit-by-the-Fire.” Although the story is very much a period piece, the overarching themes of children thinking they’re wiser than their forebears and adults having to learn how to use their life experience to be good parents still ring true. In the delightful new production at Pacific Resident Theater, director Joe Olivieri deftly derives great comedic value from a talented cast.
In early 20th century England, teenagers Amy (Betty Wigell) and Cosmo (Miles Marsico) await the return of their long-absent parents with trepidation. Alice (Alley Mills) and Robert (Bruce French) have been in India in colonial service for several years, their children left behind in Britain for safety.
After so long a separation, parents and children are not quite sure what to expect from one another. Amy and her friend Ginevra (Tania Getty), however, have recently seen a lot of melodramatic theater, so when they see Alice innocently kissing a male friend goodbye, their misunderstanding creates chaos for the newly reunited family.
Mills grounds the show with a warm and witty perf, as her character discovers a new way to channel her innate theatricality. French is agreeably bluff as Robert and skillfully provides the piece with an underlying seriousness that raises the stakes of the comedy. As the naive young Amy, Wigell excels in moments of wide-eyed innocence or melodramatic gestures. Marsico is appealingly anxious as the proper Cosmo, and Getty is deliciously amusing as Ginevra, who’s desperate to seem worldly and mature.
Neil McGowan is sympathetic and funny as Stephen, the gentleman mistaken for a cad, and Kristina Harrison is hilarious as his hungry servant Richardson. Finally, Orson Bean is charming as the narrating Playwright, and Sarah Zinsser is expertly comic as the possessive Nurse.
Olivieri does a nice job with pacing, but the play really kicks into high gear in its second act. Stephanie Kerley-Schwartz’s townhouse set is strikingly detailed, Amy’s half-finished artistic projects filling the room with immature exuberance. Rudy Dillon’s costumes seem period appropriate and are impressively lush.