Thoughts & Musings

Theater Review: 2nd Story’s ‘Watch’ a Funny Take on a Serious Subject

Alan Ayckbourn takes a look at the kind of fear that can paralyze a neighborhood, but with a mix of humor and a touch of the absurd.

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 16th November 201516/11/15
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In “Neighborhood Watch,” the current offering from 2nd Story Theatre, British playwright Alan Ayckbourn takes a look at the kind of fear that can paralyze a neighborhood, but with a mix of humor and a touch of the absurd. And that makes the play’s message all the more potent.

Ayckbourn could have given us a dramatic account of the goings on in Bluebird Hill, the gated community where Martin and sister Hilda have come looking for the good life. But wacky neighbors, arson and lawn gnomes make this play sing.

Martin, played by an insecure Joseph Henderson, loves his home, but can’t help but notice the kids hanging around a nearby project. When one takes a short cut through his yard, he grabs a package the boy is carrying, thinking it might be a bomb. It’s a clarinet.

But that doesn’t make Martin and his neighbors any less paranoid. Next come the fences, the guard dogs and the stocks, which are set up in the welcome rotary.

It’s a whirlwind of play, with a budding lesbian relationship between Hilda and Laura Sorensen’s Magda, the clarinet teacher who lives next door and is beaten by her husband.

While Ayckbourn has come up with an entertaining, and somewhat strange night of theater, he’s also got his finger on the pulse of the kind of view of the world that resulted in the vigilante shooting of Trayvon Martin. It’s a play about us versus them, about building walls around the enemy, only to come face to face with the enemy from within.

It’s about judging people without knowing the whole story, about kids from the projects who turn out to be music students, not thugs.

And that’s kind of becoming the story of our times, when we’ve got politicians talking about rounding up 11 million people who don’t look like us and sending them packing.

Henderson’s Martin seemed pretty bemused through most of the show. He does keep a statue of Jesus in his front yard, but doesn’t seem like some wild-eyed fundamentalist. In fact, we don’t know a lot about Martin, except he’s probably in his fifties and living with his sister, played by demure Becky Minard.

Wayne Kneeland, who plays Magda’s hot-headed husband, got tangled up in his lines at one point, but made a deft save and was pretty solid for the rest of the night, if a bit tightly wound.

And Lynne Collinson stood out as the secretary of the the watch committee, firing off edgy observations while playing with her iPad.

Trevor Elliott has dispensed with his elaborate sets and come up with a couple of angular couches and a table that had a simple, universal feel to them.

Even though the show is pretty outrageous, it did not elicit a lot of belly laughs from the audience. And perhaps that’s because in some ways it walks a fine line between serious commentary and a grand spoof.

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