Nobody does comedy quite like the British, and nobody has written more in that genre than Alan Ayckbourn, since 1997 more accurately known as Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
Although Acykbourn declares that he has spent more of his life directing than writing, the fact is that he is the author of more than 70 plays, including such well-known hits as Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests and Bedroom Farce, with many of his shows ultimately moving to Londons West End and then on to Broadway.
Thanks to Britains National Theatre, Ayckbourns A Small Family Business will be screened at the Douglass Theatre beginning Thursday. The Best of British Theatre high-definition broadcast will be aired again June 15.
This Ayckbourn farce played at the National Theatre originally back in 1987, and I actually ordered a copy at that time. Its re-appearance now is undoubtedly the result of the subject matter. A Small Family Business is described by the New York Times as a bracing comedy ... unflinching in its misanthropy.
The story-line involves Jack McCracken, a man of integrity -- at least in the opening scenes -- who is going to take over Ayres & Graces, the family furniture business operated by his wifes father. In short order, the principled Jack encounters goings-on the likes of which he never imagined -- including a scandal involving his own daughter -- and before very long Jacks vaunted ideals are entangled in a web of untold corruption.
While the show is absolutely a comedy, such serious matters as drug addiction are raised, and the audience is forced to re-examine modern values.
Ayckbourn wrote this play at the height of Thatcherism, when the culture of corporate greed was much a matter of public debate. The fact that it still is in 2014 makes this a perfect time for the revival of a comic examination of the acquisitive urge and its ruthless power to corrupt.
A Small Family Business
When: 7 p.m. June 12 and 3 p.m. June 15
Where: Douglass Theatre, 355 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Cost: $20 adults, $15 students and seniors