Good Theater opened its 10th anniversary season with A.R. Gurney’s “Ancestral Voices.” Now, the show is back by popular demand to close out the theater’s 11th season.
“Ancestral Voices” was a charming production in 2011. It was performed as a staged reading, but the three generations of family members weren’t just voices echoing through time. They were vivid, endearing people.
This time around, the production is all that, and more.
Brian P. Allen (Eddie), Bob McCormack (Harvey), Lee K. Paige (Jane), Jocelyn Lavin Pollard (Grandmother) and Stephen Underwood (Grandfather) return as the affluent family, living in Buffalo, N.Y., during World War II.
Once again, there is no set or props, other than five unique chairs, carefully chosen to compliment the characters seated in them. Everything else in the story springs from the imagination of the actors.
Underwood was fascinating to watch Friday night as his character drank and smoked. The “old fashions” were palpable to the audience as he swished them around in the glass before tilting his head back to let the alcohol slide down his throat. And after each cigarette, he would emphatically grind out the butt on the music stand that held his script.
The glass, the alcohol and the cigarettes weren’t really there, but Underwood was so convincing that it wouldn’t have come as a surprise if he had staggered off stage after drinking so many virtual drinks.
Underwood doubled as “Uncle” Roger, Grandfather’s wife-stealing, former best friend. With only a shift in his mannerisms, he transformed back and forth between the two men.
Even when he wasn’t actively engaged in the story, Underwood entertainingly remained in character.
Pollard also lent her talents to two roles: Grandmother and Grandfather’s new girlfriend, Fanny. She transformed into Fanny by donning a Southern accent.
When not in the spotlight, Pollard took a different approach than Underwood, sitting quietly, as if frozen in time. When the storyline shifted once again to her, it was as if someone flicked a switch, re-animating her character.
McCormack and Paige gave color to the production as Eddie’s privileged parents. Both brought a little something new to their characters. Paige added depth to her role as Jane, showing genuine concern for her divorced parents. And there was an underlying playfulness in McCormack’s portrayal of Eddie’s pompous father, Harvey.
The heart of “Ancestral Voices” is Eddie, who serves as both the focal point and narrator for the story. For most of the 90-minute performance, Eddie is a boy, age 8 to 11.
Those who saw Allen perform the role in 2011 will recall how in touch Allen was with his inner child. He embodied the curiosity and innocence of a child in his voice, facial expressions and mannerisms. The idea that Allen could delve even further into the role seemed unfathomable. But he did Friday, and it was beyond adorable.
“Ancestral Voices” is a slice of American life that is as warm, wholesome and satisfying to the senses as the most sumptuous apple pie. Voiced by Good Theater, A.R. Gurney’s characters are much more than just names in script. They’re family.
April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: