Snake in the Grass by Alan Ayckbourn? Let it slither on by. Billed as a “ghostly comedy”, this featherweight 2002 sample of Ayckbourn’s prolific writing (seventy two full-length plays, many award-winning) hardly does justice to his masterful scope and style. As presented by Theatre Too, it feels oddly set in Grey Garden’s backyard, minus the music, although weird Edie could join the cast any time and fit in, slapped into an episode of Murder, She Wrote, sadly minus Angela Lansbury.
Why this play? Why now? Presume the “haunting” aspect qualifies it as a fall/Halloween production. According to Wikipedia, it was written as a female companion piece to the 1994 ghost play Haunting Julia. In 2008 these two plays, together with new play Life and Beth were made into a trilogy named Things That Go Bump. Perhaps in trilogy context Snake in the Grass has more credible substance. As it plays alone, it’s barely plausible, as predictable as any TV sitcom and not very funny. Any play that deals with intentional poisoning, tossing people down wells and fraud has to make a strong case for humor.
In addition it is set in England with British accents. There are many quirky funny plays written in stateside English. A theatre company doesn’t have to import light comedy from across the pond. Why go there? Why force an innocent audience to endure the torture of watching well- intentioned American actors strain, grimace, over-enunciate, emphasize words strangely and occasionally drop the garbled patois altogether? It’s a tiresome experience and lessens the positive effect, if any, of the play performed, in spades. In Theatre Too’s Snake in the Grass I watched three talented, accomplished actresses give flat, uninteresting, rote performances, trying to wrap themselves around the language and dull script, an exercise in futility. The original cast included Cindee Mayfield, Lisa Fairchild and Lydia Mackey, all of whom are capable of excellent performance. Just not here. Emily Scott Banks replaced Lisa Fairchild after several weeks due to injury; I cannot comment on Banks’ interpretation or attempt at mastering the troublesome accent.
Bruce Coleman directed and also designed costume, with set design by David Walsh, lighting design by Paul Arnold and sound design by Marco E. Salinas.
Tickets may be purchased by calling Theatre Three’s box office at 214-871-3300, option #1, online at www.theatre3dallas.com
Snake in the Grass runs through November 15 in the downstairs Theatre Too space at Theatre Three in the Quadrangle.