Scripps Ranch Theatre loves to throw a fast-paced, smart script at its audiences, and “Return Engagements” is no exception. Bernard Slade’s clever comedy follows four couples in a series of interactions taking place at the same hotel over the course of twenty-three years, affairs, remarriages, and aborted weddings; but pay attention. Each of the couples is connected to the others in some way, and Slade’s fast-paced script trusts the audiences to catch that the bellboy is the patient of the therapist and the friend to the meat packer who sends the hamburgers to the actress who was the patient of the dentist who is dating the mistress of the husband who was propositioned by the cook who wants the baby–and they’ll only say it once.
Charles Peters directs a strong cast with refreshingly comic scene changes on a single set. Nick Young (Joe) brings a likeable humor and endearing gentleness to the role that belies his massive shoulders, somehow managing to come off as the vulnerable and innocent one in his scenes with the tiny, intense Julia Giolzetti (Miranda). Giolzetti is the show’s unquestionable standout, portraying Polish immigrant and refugee Miranda with dextrous and dark comedic timing, navigating both the Polish accent in the first act and American modern speech patterns in the second act with a natural, relaxed acumen that gives her scenes with Young heart, depth, tragedy and joy. Though the characters should be mismatched these actors achieved what must surely have been Slade’s intent: that love can dwell in the most surprising places.
Adam Daniel (Raymond) gives a physical, slapstick comedy to his scenes with Ruth Carlson Russell (Daisy) that lends an endearing quality to the character, though he’s most successful in his fast-paced, bumbling delivery (it’s difficult in such a small, wide space to truly be surprised by pratfalls when the audience is literally close enough to touch the actors, and prop business with a plastic hamburger that stays intact in a single piece despite being dropped, spun, flipped, thrown, and hidden multiple times loses something in translation); and the sweet surprising kissing scenes have a likable chemistry between the two that leaves the audience smiling. Morgan Carberry (Fern) and Robin Thompson (Oliver) play a staid, pragmatic professional couple with a dry wit from both that makes their scenes a pleasure to watch, with straight-faced comic delivery that leads to laugh out loud moments when they both in turn drop their “business as usual” composure and become emotional in small, controlled moments. Though the size of the theatre and closeness of the audience makes it unnecessarily difficult on Carberry in a scene where she’s driven to tears, the tenderness of the moment when Thompson gently comforts her was lovely and truthful from both. Samuel Young (Henry) and Natalia Maggio (Dawn) play the new prospective spouses of Fern and Oliver as the previous couple finalizes their divorce, and inject life and unpredictability into the shared scenes between the foursome. Where Fern and Oliver are controlled and civilized, Henry and Dawn are silly and wild and startling, no mean feat to pull off for Young in particular, who manages to make Henry–self-described “boring, but knows he’s boring, which makes him appealing”–hilarious to watch and ridiculous. You’re not sure at any given moment whether he’ll burst into forced laughter for a joke a minute too late or blurt out something preposterous with an imploring smile.
Costuming was smart (Pam Stompoly-Erickson), particularly Fern’s Chanel-esque pink suit and Daisy’s adorable wedding dress, with the one misstep for me being if the first act was meant to be in 1954, the second act 23 years later, the neon pinks of Miranda’s second act costume were a little 80’s in feeling; but Dawn’s flowing 70’s poncho was perfectly on point. Set design worked well, giving us several locations within the same hotel room that could lend a completely different feel for each of the couples as they navigated their relationships–though one particular scene between Dawn and Oliver in the second act was staged with a bit too much distance between the actors, and watching the quick fire exchange turned into a tennis match. Pacing throughout was quick-fire and controlled but not rushed, and both acts flew by.
A thoroughly enjoyable night at the theatre, now at Scripps Ranch through April 28th.
Photo Credit: Ken Jacques