The unique quirk in the CSUF production of “Taking Steps” can be found in the way each character maneuvers through the creaky three-story mansion as they scale up and down the staircases and parade through the maze of hallways.
Laid out masterfully on the flat Hallberg Theatre stage, the British farce centers around the buffoonery of the people who are brought together by Roland’s (Joe Stein) attempts to buy an old Victorian mansion that was previously a brothel. Written by playwright Alan Ayckbourn, the comedy takes place entirely in 1975 at a house right outside London over a span of two days.
Directed by Mark Ramont, the simplicity of two days, three stories and a six-piece cast is all this production needs to delight audiences. “Taking Steps” is precisely funny, carefully poised and all-around ridiculous. While the play’s run time is nearly three hours, it uses the time effectively with close attention to character development and pauses for comedic effect.
Mark’s (Casey Bowen) energetic bouncing across the two-dimensional stairways entice scatters of laughter. Lizzy’s (Kira Jamison) bold, purposefully-cringey dance moves charm as Tristram (Aaron Ford) comes to grips that the absurd ghost stories told to him earlier could actually be true in the floor below (across the stage).
Communication, or lack thereof, drives the narrative of the farce like a sitcom, with the audience replacing any need for a laugh track. Its light play with sexual humor is amusing; every time Mark and Tristram carry a passed out Roland up and down the stairs, they look as if they were in sex positions.
The set and sound designers deserve recognition for making the mansion into a character of its own. The limitations of the stage were used only to the advantage of bringing in more comedic moments. The ‘70s flare found in the furniture and costumes is believable and an exciting era to be immersed in, even if only through the play’s aesthetics.
Stein as Roland receives the most praise and audience response with his hilarious, carefully crafted character. His first appearances are more often off-stage as he constantly excuses himself to grab more drinks for him and his guests mid-conversation. In a silk blue suit and burgundy loafers, Roland is a lovable perpetually drunk scoundrel who entertains subtly with his quiet reactions and in over-blown wisecracks.
Ford’s performance as Tristram, who is Roland’s “sort-of solicitor,” perfectly exemplifies the impressive comedic timing and character development found in “Taking Steps.” He uses long pauses to his advantage, illustrating the awkwardness of his character – reminiscent of a ‘70s Clark Kent. He scrambles his words and his short vocabulary develops closer to memorable catchphrases. He timidly walks in as a visitor to the mansion’s antics but climbs up the ranks to centerstage as the play concludes.
Bowen’s character often puts people to sleep with his drawn out realizations. His use of physical comedy throughout and oblivious behavior matches his sister Lizzy’s, who goes around using the “I’m a dancer!” card in every situation she can fit it.
There isn’t a weak link in the cast as they each balance the goofy series of events and play off the personalities of one another. Leslie (André Vernot) plays the ruthless landlord who goes to great lengths to get the money-pit-of-a-mansion off his hands. While the character of Kitty (Darby Sorich) is scarce in the first act, she brings heart to the second as she wrestles with trying to get away from her fiancé without being subjected to confrontation.
“Taking Steps” is a lighthearted play with a talented cast that has fun with its intricate character’s silly antics, sure to entertain and bring laughter to audiences in the Hallberg Theatre until March 18.