Dog Days Theatre a new series presented by the FSU Asolo Conservatory is a welcome relief for sleepy Sarasota summers. Season can be such a whirlwind when the Sarasota arts scene kicks into high gear, but now even Sarasota summer has much to recommend it.
The first show of the inaugural Dog Days season is “Relatively Speaking” by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. The cast is positively top shelf and the sunny sets are a perfect complement to this seemingly light fare.
The midcentury romantic comedy begins in Ginny’s perfectly pink flat in London with her new beau Greg (Wyatt C. McNeil, a recent FSU Conservatory alum) answering her pesky telephone which rings several times during the opening scene. I felt an immediate kinship with Ginny (Kelly Elizabeth Smith, also a recent FSU Conservatory alum) who sleeps below a poster of Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” something I did as a Manhattan singleton. We soon learn, however, that Ginny has more in common with her alter ego Holly than I ever did (I was drawn to Audrey Hepburn’s inimitable style).
Like Holly, Ginny is hiding a secret older lover with a proclivity for early morning phone calls, from her naïve young beau Greg. And, Greg grows more suspicious as he finds flowers, chocolates, and most incriminating a pair of men’s slippers in Ginny’s apartment.
Hilarity ensues through all of the discoveries and wild misunderstandings as Greg sets off on a journey hoping to meet Ginny’s parents only to discover her former boss Philip (David Kortemeier) and his wife Sheila (Julia Gibson) going about their weekend rituals on their country estate.
Gibson portrays Sheila as a charming and lonely housewife who allows herself to be confused by her handsome young visitor Greg. It is not clear why Sheila offers to entertain him, a perfect stranger arriving on her doorstep; but the pair is soon chummy and before he knows it, Greg is in an apron helping bake light pastries for lunch. Philip is a dour aristocrat who likes to putter about his garden, but he comes to life when Ginny arrives surreptitiously at the older couples’ doorstep about an hour behind Greg.
“Relatively Speaking” is hilarious with sharp writing and a very agile cast who make even the most fanciful parts of the plot work on stage. It is lovely to see Smith in a light and slightly devilish role after her profound performance as Alexandra in “The Little Foxes” last spring. The “Relatively Speaking” script is so clever that it seems timeless, except when we reach the ending, which feels very dated, because of the shabby treatment of the perpetually perky and effervescent Sheila. When the curtain fell, it was hard to think of poor Sheila left behind as the younger couple dashed off for a European tour.
The whole team behind “Relatively Speaking” hit the perfect notes, and the Dog Days series is a welcome heir to the Banyan Theatre. Check out “Relatively Speaking” and “Double Indemnity,” the next production of the season.