Britain's very prolific Alan Ayckbourn -- oops, pardon me, Sir Alan Ayckbourn -- has written more than 75 plays. I often feel, erroneously, like I've sat through all of them. But most of what I have seen involves two things: (a) Sir Al manipulating stage time in such a way that real time seems weird and (b) suburban infidelity … especially the sort where the more piggish-acting the man, the more all the women want to sleep with him.
By and large, I'm no fan of Ayckbourn. Unless he really outdoes himself on the aforementioned (a), the predictability of (b) leaves me looking for the exit.
Every now and again, however, his (b) is far more interesting, and that's especially true of Little Lake's Comic Potential. In what is surely Ayckbourn's most linear play, a young man falls in love with an actress, much to the distress of everyone around them. Adam risks his future and his family to turn Jacie into the star he knows she can be … and, of course, they fall in love on their journey.
What makes it interesting is that Jacie is a robot. Comic Potential is set in a near future when actors are replaced by "actoids" -- robots who act in down-market television soap operas.
Before you can say Pygmalion and Galatea, Adam and Jacie are confronting more trouble than they bargained for, and Ayckbourn surprises with a nascent feminist message about self-actualization.
Structurally, the play's a mess (just how many scenes can you stick into the space of 10 minutes?). But Jason Dille and Kate Neubert-Lechner are such appealing performers playing Adam and Jacie that you're ready to overlook pretty much anything if you can be assured these two characters will find happiness. Neubert-Lechner is especially strong as the robot suddenly beleaguered by her own unsuspected humanity.
Director Sunny Disney-Fitchett has brought together a wonderfully supple cast, with strong performances from, among others, Jena Oberg, Lisa Hoffmann and Charles Grant Carey. And I'd like to make special mention of Dave James and Jennifer Kopach, who play two throw-away parts (lesser robot actors) with an intense, and rewarding, conviction.
COMIC POTENTIAL continues through July 23. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelaketheatre.org