Rockville Little Theatre is opening its new season with an etiquette lesson that would make Emily Post turn over in her gravy.
Alan Ayckbourn's "Table Manners" serves up a series of meals during a tension-spiced weekend at the home of a decidedly dysfunctional British family, and the results are riotously funny (for the audience).
The youngest member of the cacophonous clan is Annie, a nervously neurotic woman who is dating Tom, a witless veterinarian who avoids commitment mainly because he is too dumb to consider what one is.
At the start of the show, Annie has had a fling with her sister's husband, Norman, and has accepted his invitation to "go on holiday" with him, as they say in the mother country.
The cat is soon let out of the bag, and the inevitable food fight begins.
The 1973 play is part of "The Norman Conquests," a trilogy that also includes "Living Together" and "Round and Round the Garden."
An Ayckbourn comedy is rather like a Woody Allen script with a British accent. Fortunately, director Seth R. Ghitelman has found a splendid cast to help him tell this frenzied tale in the proper tone of voice. Ghitelman and assistant director Bridget Muehlberger keep the action lively and season it with clever sight gags. And with Carol Strachan, an English native, to support the directors as vocal coach, the accents are as convincing as any this side of the Atlantic.
Several cast members recently appeared in a wonderful production of Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" for the Mount Vernon Players in Washington, so the proper sounds are still fresh in their minds.
Sarah Peters, who played a spoiled and unflappable rich kid in "Hay Fever," offers a very different character in "Table Manners," but she does it with the same expressive and hilarious effect.
Christopher and Jessica Dearie, who are married offstage--and in this production--were also memorable in "Hay Fever" and score plenty of laughs as Annie's brother Reg, and his wife, Sarah.
Both of their characters are caught in the middle of the stumbling affair between Annie and Norman, and they manage to further muck things up when they try to impose a little order around the dining-room battlefield.
Bruce Alan Rauscher is perfectly colorful and flamboyant as the troublemaking Norman, a librarian with the heart of a gigolo.
Rauscher makes Norman appropriately likable, even though he's an adulterer. But you can't really blame Norman, because his wife, Ruth, doesn't really care for him all that much.
Erika Imhoof is wry and uninterested as Ruth, convincingly portraying a woman who loves her career infinitely more than she does her husband.
And Andy Greenleaf is absolutely and delightfully thick-headed as the clueless veterinarian, Tom.
A sprawling, realistic set, designed by Bill King, makes good use of the large stage in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, though all of the action is concentrated at one end, around a dining-room table.
Sound, by Elena Mekhova, and lighting, designed by John Natali, help to make the cavernous theater seem like an intimate space, even from the back row of the house.
The place was packed Saturday night on the opening weekend, and it is encouraging to see so many people coming out to support their local community theater, especially when a show is this deserving of a good-size crowd.
"Table Manners" continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through Oct. 2, and at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 3, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Edmonston Drive and Baltimore Road, in Rockville. Tickets are $10; $9 for students and senior citizens. Call 301-340-1417 for reservations.