TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT at Masquers Playhouse is flawed but impressive.

Free spirited Aunt Augusta (Joan Nelson center) surrounded by her nephew Henry Pulling, variously played by (clockwise from left) DC Scarpelli, Robert Love, Coley Grundman and Peter Budinger in Masquers Playhouse production of Travels With My Aunt.

TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT by Graham Greene adapted for the stage by Giles Havergal; directed by John Hull. Masquers Playhouse, Highway 580 (Richmond Parkway exit) at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond across from the Hotel Mac. or (510) 232-4031

TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT at Masquers Playhouse is flawed but impressive.

There is much to like about Giles Havergal’s adaptation of Graham Green’s delightful novel Travel’s With My Aunt that is receiving an engaging staging at Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond under John Hulls inventive direction. What should be a riotous evening ends up as a pleasant interlude of theater with highs outweighing the lows but not fully satisfying.

The story line is a treasure and Graham Greene’s novel takes us on a roller coaster journey from England, to Turkey on the Orient Express and by boat and plane to Paraguay following the exploits of Aunt Augusta. Havergal has written the play for four male actors playing numerous roles including the female parts. John Hull has brilliantly elected to stage the show with bare bones props and concentrate on Graham Greene’s words and the ability of his actors to switch roles seamlessly. He has taken a page from the Word for Word players and it fits perfectly into Havergal’s script. The decision to use a female to play the pivotal role of Aunt Augusta may have been a good idea but the lackluster performance of Joan Nelson in the role detracted from the superb performance of the remainder of the cast.

That remainder of the cast includes Peter Budinger, Coley Grundman, Robert Love and DC Scarpelli playing more than 20 roles. They make the difficult transition of converting exposition from novel to stage seem simple. It is not and the quartet mentioned above, all dressed in smart black business suits use their voices and body movements for their character transitions so smoothly to become believable.

The catalyst is of course our dear world traveler Aunt Augusta (Joan Nelson) who attends the funeral of her sister and entices/seduces in a non-sexual way, her Dahlia loving, bland bank clerk nephew Henry Pulling (Played at various times by each male actor) into an anarchic journey of intrigue leading to self-discovery. She smuggles drugs and gold, takes on Wordsworth (DC Scarpelli) a black South African gigolo, and later dumps him for Ercole Visconti a notorious Italian revolutionary viper.

Then there is “Tooley” O’Toole from the CIA who has a daughter “Tooley” who has (had) the ‘hots’ for Henry. Along the way we have policemen, cabbies, the vicar, Col. Hakim, an Italian girl, Miss Patterson, a Spanish gentlemen, Yolanda and others. Do not try to figure out who played whom because you would probably be wrong. Besides, the quartet of men could easily play any of the roles except the role of Wordsworth that belongs to DC Scarpelli.

It rather is Monty Python off steroids without costume changes but with resplendent acting and precise diction leading to hilarity. Joan Nelson’s monochromatic delivery is fortunately overcome by Peter Budinger, Coley Grundman, Robert Love and DC Scarpelli and her colorful costume changes designed by Maria Graham. The denouement is very satisfying, the production values are thoroughly professional and a visit to see the show is well worth the trip to Point Richmond. Make it a full evening with dinner at the Hotel Mac just across the street from the theater.

Running time is about 2 hours and 20 minutes including an intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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