… the numinous fluidity of paintings in WW II … 

A stuffy, inhibited 50-year old British banker, Henry, meets up with his mother’s sister, 75-year old Aunt Augusta, at his mother’s funeral and is drawn by her into traveling to far away places and a new view of life with this free-wheeling, libertine, and slightly criminal Aunt.

The first surprise Augusta has up her sleeve is that Henry’s mother, whose ash urn he is clutching, was not really his mother.

Who is his mother?  We know right off the bat.  But it takes Henry the full play to find out.

After that, every venue holds a new surprise.  At Augusta’s home, Henry meets Wordsworth, her Black lover from Sierra Leone.  In a mini-trip to Brighton, he encounters aspects of Augusta’s colorful early life, and on to Paris, and Istanbul via the Orient Express where Augusta’s full love life and involvement with shady characters continues to unfold.  For awhile, it seems too much for Henry who returns home to care for his garden, shades of Voltaire, but eventually Augusta’s siren’s call draws him to South America, and to new revelations and a new life.

The four outstanding actors — Thomas Jay Ryan, Jay Russell, Dan Jenkins and Rory Kulz —  play multiple roles, morphing at the drop of a hat into other characters, often in mid sentence.   It’s particularly fascinating to watch Thomas Jay Ryan “turn into” Henry and Aunt Augusta, again often in mid sentence, switching genders but maintaining an ironic amusement.  In this he provides the key to the play — ironic amusement is needed from the audience as well.

The play is saturated with an intriguing numinous fluidity of gender, race, age and nationality as the four male, White actors spread out among the many characters.  Mostly, though, what keeps one sometimes laughing, other times somewhat interested, is that what’s far-fetched, unlooked for and just plain wild keeps bumping up against straight-faced and placid responses, as in a comedy routine.

Of the main characters, only Wordsworth, Aunt Augusta’s Black lover from Sierra Leone, is played by one actor, Dan Jenkins who, to give you an idea, plays eight other parts as well.  That the actors succeed is the tour-de-force that makes this play worth seeing.

The characters are types, not fully realized individuals:  instead of caring about them, we wait for them to amuse us.  Only the African, Wordsworth comes across as genuine, a reflection of the novel’s point of view about “civilized” artificialities.  Perhaps that’s why he’s the only character played by a single actor and the only one you feel for.

In this and in other ways we can find fragments of thought that propelled the novel, but generally the novel’s ideas are submerged.  This production is all about style, and about four actors who play a multitude of parts with arch humor and perfect timing.

… And, p.s.  I don’t find that criminals profiting from paintings purloined by the Nazi’s during World War II good stuff for amusement.

Travels With My Aunt, produced by the Keen Company, plays at The Clurman at Theater Row on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through November 14, 2015.

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