My Wonderful Day

by Alan Ayckbourn
directed by Richard Hamburger
May 18, 2011June 19, 2011

Adults behaving childishly (and vice versa)

The maturation process, I observed long ago, consists largely of discovering that adults don’t know what the hell they’re doing. In my case, this process began as early as nursery school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, when my classmate Peter Rutkoff, having violated the rule against talking during rest hour, was told he would have to remain on his cot for an extra 20 minutes after rest hour ended— an eternity for a four-year-old.

Peter, making the best of a bad situation, promptly fell asleep. When the lights came on, I witnessed two student teachers standing over Peter’s sleeping form and debating what to do about him.

“Shouldn’t we wake him up?” inquired the first.

“No,” replied the second. “We told him to stay on his cot for 20 minutes. And that’s what he’s doing.”

“But if we don’t wake him up,” said the first teacher, “how will he know he’s being punished?

Cleaning lady’s daughter

In the case of Winnie, the precocious nine-year-old protagonist of Alan Ayckbourn’s My Wonderful Day, the awakening occurs when she spends a day tagging along with her mother, a domestic hired to clean an upscale London townhouse. Although Winnie (Lavita Shaurice) tries to make herself unobtrusive, there’s no escaping the oversized egos and narcissistic neuroses of the grownups she encounters there.

These include Kevin, the man of the house, a pompous TV personality (David Andrew Macdonald; Tiffany, Kevin’s adoring bimbo assistant and mistress (Kelly O’Sullivan); Josh, Kevin’s colleague and enabler (John Zak); and Paula, Kevin’s harridan wife (Kate Eastwood Norris), an Academy Award-winning actress with an Oscar-worthy temper, who has somehow degenerated, as Kevin laments to Josh, from “an angel into a monster.”

These childless “adults” are so full of themselves that they barely notice the child in their midst who is studiously observing them, except as Winnie’s presence impedes or advances their self-centered agendas. They’re enchanted with the sounds of their own voices but incapable of performing basic tasks, like stocking the refrigerator or summoning an ambulance.

Winnie, by contrast— especially as portrayed by the remarkable Lavita Shaurice, who in real life is not a schoolgirl at all but a college graduate— conveys more in a glance, shrug or grimace than her babbling elders communicate in paragraphs.

The Sarah Palin factor

In My Wonderful Day, Ayckbourn has pulled off a rare feat: an adult comedy about adult childishness. Yet much of this play’s comic impact stems not from the script but from the unspoken gestures and facial expressions of the Wilma’s uniformly magnificent cast, superbly directed by Richard Hamburger. Lee Savage’s revolving set, imaginatively moving us from room to room within Kevin’s house, reinforces the sense of a rational child trapped in a world of much larger but irrational people.

An evening spent laughing at this situation is a useful tonic in a world that routinely confers responsibility on overgrown adolescents like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sarah Palin, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Just this week, a front-page headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion announced, “Nation Down to Last Hundred Grown-Ups; ‘Mature adults could be gone within 50 years,’ experts say.”

As defined by The Onion, this endangered demographic group is distinguished by such unique traits as “foresight, rationality, understanding of how to obtain and pay for a mortgage, personal responsibility, and the ability to enter a store without immediately purchasing whatever items they see and desire.” My Wonderful Day arrives not a minute too soon.