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‘Confusions’ Finds Common Satiric Thread

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Spewing out words at fellow human beings shouldn’t be confused with communication, and the painful loneliness that results shouldn’t be humorous. But in Alan Ayckbourn’s wickedly funny “Confusions,” five loosely linked one-acts playing at Theatre 40, bad communication becomes good comedy and British social satire.

In the first piece, “Mother Figure,” a concerned couple (Carrie Dobro and Paul Mercier) enter the toy-littered living room of their neighbor Lucy (Suzanne Goddard) after receiving a collect phone call from her supposedly worried husband, Harry (Marcus Smythe). Not having been in adult company in days, maybe weeks, Lucy doesn’t know how to speak with other adults and reduces her neighbors into psychological children. She does know she doesn’t want to speak with Harry and promptly hangs up the phone whenever it rings.

In “Drinking Companion,” Harry appears, complaining that his phone call has been mysteriously disconnected. A sleazy salesman, he attempts to get pretty young Paula (Goddard) drunk and up to his hotel room. Convinced she sees him as a suave older man, his increasingly inebriated state blinds him to her snickering and his own transparency. Seeing Goddard as his intended prey summons up images of what Lucy might have been, before she was worn down by Harry’s deceptions.

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There is more duplicity afoot in “Between Mouthfuls” as a man (Mercier) and his wife (Goddard) happen into the same exclusive restaurant as his boss, Pearce (David Hunt Stafford), and his shrewish wife (Gail Bearden). While their hapless but slightly dim waiter hovers about, the two unhappy couples bicker about things that are ultimately related.

Mrs. Pearce is the featured speaker at “Gosforth’s Fete,” yet the juiciest morsel served for high tea is the inadvertent announcement of Milly’s (Goddard) pregnancy by Gosforth (Smythe). The slightly giddy vicar (Stafford) informs Milly’s fiance Stewart (Mercier) that everyone already knew.

The last piece, “A Talk in the Park,” has no characters to easily relate it to the others but depends upon the theme of stymied human connections. Wanting to talk, people force ruminations on unwilling strangers, each of whom moves away only to dump thoughts on another hapless person in an adult version of musical chairs.

Director Gavin Glennon skillfully makes these pieces flow and keeps the ensemble’s multiple characterizations clearly defined. The shock of seeing Goddard appear in roles that tweak her earlier appearances (from harried wife to her husband’s intended one-nighter) provides continuity and a sense of discomfort while adding layers of meaning.

* “Confusions,” Theatre 40, Beverly Hills High School campus, 241 Moreno Drive, (213) 466-1767. Mondays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Dark Sept. 23. Ends Oct. 9. $12. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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