A retired English banker, who wants nothing more then to tend his dahlia bulbs, has his quiet country life commandeered by an estranged aunt, long past her salad days but not too old to juggle lovers, dodge gangsters and attract the attention of the CIA in “Travels With My Aunt” at the North Coast Rep.
In adapting the madcap tale from a novel of the same name by Graham Greene, playwright Giles Havergal has tasked four male actors (James Saba, David McBean, Richard Baird and Benjamin Cole) to pass dialog and mannerisms back and forth, with the precision of jugglers rapidly passing balls in the air, in order to portray 20 unique characters.
Bravo that the troupe, nattily attired as quadruplets in identical suits, ties, and bowler hats (courtesy of costume designer Elisa Benzoni) can embody, through voice and mannerisms alone, the hapless banker Henry Pulling and his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta as well as Augusta’s assorted paramours, an ingenue, a drugged-out hippy, gangsters, pranksters and hangers-on. Director David Ellenstein ties everything up in this package with a pretty red bow.
Set designer Marty Burnett’s deceptively spartan stage also has tricks up its sleeves: Wall niches that rotate like automat compartments to deliver and receive a handful of plot-worthy props (courtesy of Andrea Guterrez) and round, porthole-like windows that (thanks to light designer Matt Novotny) present ever-changing visuals that move the story from the British countryside, Paris, the Orient Express, Istanbul and eventually Paraguay. Sound designer Melanie Chen melds song birds, ocean liner blast horns, seductive music, and the occasional gunshot to orchestrate the action. High marks to dialect Coach Victoria Hanlin for crisp Queen’s English, a sonorous Caribbean dialect and an assortment of European and Latin American accents.
“Travels With My Aunt” will make you want to seek out and interview your elderly relatives to see what delightful secrets they may be harboring.
By Lynne Friedmann