Northern Stage delivers a farcical feast in ‘Living Together,’
first in ‘Norman Conquests’ trilogy

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Richard Gallagher as Norman, David Mason, Jenni Putney. All photos by Rob Strong Photography.

Richard Gallagher as Norman, David Mason as Tom and Jenni Putney as Annie. All photos by Rob Strong Photography.

White River Junction’s Northern Stage finishes off its 2015-16 season with Alan Ayckbourn’s comic Living Together, the first in a trilogy of plays known collectively as “The Norman Conquests” (more about that later).

For anyone who delights in the absurdities of Britcoms, Living Together is a feast of farcical proportions.

The story centers on a family of two sisters, Ruth and Annie, and their older brother, Reg. Ruth is married to Norman, an assistant librarian with a roving eye and a need to make as many women happy as he can. Reg is married to Sarah, a woman who prides herself on her self-control and who can never find anything good to say about Norman. Annie still lives at home, tending to their bedridden mother and dating nebbish-y veterinarian Tom, who cannot just not tell a joke but who rarely gets one.

Norman, frustrated by his relationship with his career-obsessed wife Ruth, convinces Annie to run away for a hedonistic weekend. Annie tells Sarah and Reg about her plans, and when Norman shows up to leave with Annie, Norman’s libidinous plans fall into tatters and the six unhappy thirtysomethings spend a long weekend dealing with each others’ foibles and infidelities.

David Mason and Jenni Putney.

David Mason and Jenni Putney.

Richard Gallagher’s Norman is by turns charmingly despicable, laughingly infantile and riotously romantic; even a scene in which he gets inebriated is nothing short of adorable — no wonder all the women fall for him.

Jenni Putney’s quite lovable Annie is inelegant and lonely, living in the fear that she might spend her remaining years tending to her mother or worse — settling for the dull-as-dishwater Tom (played by the deadly serious David Mason who garners cascades of laughs)

Seen at a final preview, Caitlin Clouthier’s Sarah lacked the authority Sarah would need to manipulate Mark Light-Orr’s intelligent Reg, while Ashton Heyl’s Ruth proves supremely able to deal with Norman’s unending range of quirks and peccadillos.

This is a strong cast, ably directed by Peter Hackett. There are small moments that both ring true and add to the humor of the situation. A bit of business between Reg and Tom and a pile of magazines is perfectly timed and spot-on character-wise.

Set Designer David Arsenault has created a well-appointed country sitting room — all dark wood and old comfort. Costume Designer Chip Schoonmaker has outfitted the cast in costumes that reflect the mid-‘70s setting. Stuart Duke’s lighting is clean and natural while Jane Shaw has created a series of sound effects that meld in perfectly.

From left, David Mason, Jenni Putney, Richard Gallagher and Mark Light-Orr.

From left, David Mason, Jenni Putney, Richard Gallagher and Mark Light-Orr as Reg.

While Living Together plays only through May 8 at Northern Stage, you can also catch the other two plays in “The Norman Conquests” throughout the summer. Table Manners will be playing at Dorset Theatre Festival June 16-July 2 and Round and Round the Garden can be seen at Weston Playhouse July 21-30.

Each play stands on its own merits, but the cumulative effect of watching these six characters play out their weekend together is an experience all its own. And happily, the same actors and production team will continue through each of the plays.

Living Together continues through Sunday, May 8 at Northern Stage, the Barrette Center for the Arts, 74 Gates St., White River Junction. Performances: Tuesday through Sunday ; matinees on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday . The play is two hours with one intermission. For tickets and information, call 802-291-9009 or click here.

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About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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