By William Wolf

HERO'S WELCOME  Send This Review to a Friend

Writer-director Alan Ayckbourn displays his very serious side in “Hero’s Welcome,” one of the two presentations in the current Brits Off Broadway series at 59E59 Theaters. (See Search and Theater for a review of the other offering, “Confusions,” a much lighter collection of five plays.) Ayckbourn starts deceptively calm, and then, as more revelations surface, he builds to a strong climax.

Once again he—and we—have the advantage of a brilliant, versatile cast. The same five members from “Confusions” are on hand—Stephen Billington, Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon, Charlotte Harwood and Richard Stacey. For “Hero’s Welcome” we also get a bonus, a sixth cast member, the delightful Evelyn Hoskins.

The hero, home from war in an unspecified place and decorated for bravery, is Murray, played by Richard Stacey. He has brought home a foreign wife, whose complicated name is Madrababacascabuna, but called Baba to make life easier. Charmingly played by bright-eyed Evelyn Hoskins, Baba doesn’t speak much English, but with dictionary in hand, she is eager to learn more and comes up with amusingly sophisticated words. As for her native tongue, it is a language concocted for the drama.

The hero is arriving into an undercurrent of resentment. Brad (Stephen Billington), known as Murray’s best friend from the past, is less than enthusiastic in greeting him. Brad’s wife Kara (Charlotte Harwood) is perplexed at the reaction, and we also note how meanly she is treated by Brad. (Later Harwood doubles as Kara’s daughter Simone.)

As the background is exposed, we learn that Alice (Elizabeth Boag), the local mayor who is supposed to do the town’s honors in a ceremony saluting Murray, is still smarting from a relationship with Murray that ended badly. Alice’s husband, Derek (Russell Dixon) does his best to cater to his distraught wife feeling imprisoned by the past, but a bit of a buffoon, he gets into an entanglement when he reluctantly accepts Brad’s mean-spirited bet that he can seduce Baba, and Derek doesn’t know how to keep is mouth shut. Misunderstandings result.

Oh yes, Brad likes to shoot birds for sport and we see the rifle brought into the living room. Will the unwritten law of drama be fulfilled—that if there is a gun in sight it will have to go off at some point?

Acykbourn weaves the strands of the overloaded plot into somewhat of a soap opera, except that in his hands the play comes across as more than that. There is mordant humor underscoring the complications as well as serious observations about character behavior. Despite so much jammed into in the play, Ayckbourn and his marvelous cast can keep us riveted, and his direction is lean and pointed. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed June 10, 2016.


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