- OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic
In Alan Ayckbourn’s new play “Hero’s Welcome,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters at part of the Brits Off Broadway Series, a young British soldier returns home from military conflict for the first time in seventeen years. Murray (Richard Stacey) brings his new bride Baba (Evelyn Hoskins) back to his former home to start a new life and restore the hotel once owned by his parents. Although he is greeted as a hero, there are residents who are not pleased about his return and collude to send him and Baba packing.
“Hero’s Welcome” is replete with deceit, revenge, and intrigue. Once the play’s exposition is established, each character and her or his conflicts drive an interesting but often predictable plot. Before he skipped town seventeen years ago, Murray was part of a love triangle with Alice (played with a vengeful remorse by Elizabeth Boag) and Kara (played with a simmering self-awareness by Charlotte Harwood) – a tryst that ended in an unwanted pregnancy and a bride left at the altar. Although both women have since married, fractured feelings remain and neither woman wants Murray around.
Mr. Ayckbourn’s new play is decidedly character driven and the actors (as in “Confusions”) are the key elements of the production’s success. Richard Stacey understands Murray’s problems completely and portrays the homecoming soldier with the right balance of bravura and hometown boy charm. His scenes opposite Evelyn Hoskins (Baba) are powerful and Ms. Hoskins counterpoints Mr. Stacey’s bravado with emotional strength: she is a spiritual spitfire and he wears his secret like a tight-fitting glove.
Stephen Billington plays the despicable cad Brad with the veneer of charm and the underbelly of pure evil. One wonders throughout the play just how long Kara (Charlotte Harwood) will put up with his misogyny. Russell Dixon portrays Alice’s (Elizabeth Boag) husband Derek with impeccable timing (just like his train!) and irresistible charm. The six actors in “Hero’s Welcome” deliver authentic and engaging performances. Less engaging is the script itself.
The script is convoluted and its characters underdeveloped. While Murray’s, Alice’s, and Kara’s conflicts are clear and their motivations believable, other characters lack authentic conflicts and their contribution to the forward movement of the plot often stalls the play’s overall progress. Why, for example, Kara’s daughter Simone (also played by Ms. Harwood) appears in the last scene to burn down The Bird of Prey is as puzzling as it is unnecessary. Despite having a contemporary setting and feel, “Hero’s Welcome” rehearses Mr. Ayckbourn’s important themes – “man’s inhumanity to woman” and the lack of transparency – with a less than contemporary feel. Still, “Hero’s Welcome” is an interesting story with redemptive themes and worth the visit.
The cast for “Hero’s Welcome” features Stephen Billington, Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon, Charlotte Harwood, Evelyn Hoskins, and Richard Stacey. The design team for both plays is Jason Taylor (lighting designer) and Michael Holt (production designer). The production stage manager is Veronica Aglow. Production photos by Tony Bartholomew.
Alan Ayckbourn’s “Hero’s Welcome” and “Confusions” run in rep for their New York City premieres at Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters with a general performance schedule of Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00p.m. Please see the performance calendar for the individual show schedules. Single tickets for “Hero’s Welcome” and “Confusions” are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time for “Hero’s Welcome” is 2 hours and 25 minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.