“Sugar Daddies” at ACT Theatre

ACT-Sugar Daddies Seán Griffin and Emily Chisholm - photo by Chris Bennion

Seán Griffin and Emily Chisholm – photo by Chris Bennion

It’s not often that a noted English playwright comes to Seattle to direct the American premiere of one of his plays, his 64th to be exact. But that is just what we have here. The highly lauded Sir Alan Ayckbourn has been in Seattle fashioning ACT’s production of “Sugar Daddies.”

The laughs are many and come swiftly. It’s a funny, funny work, but underneath the humor some interesting questions poke through. Questions like: Who are we really? Is there ever a gift with no strings attached? Can there be redemption, and do we have it here?

As the play opens, Sasha, an innocent young thing, drags an old man dressed as Father Christmas into her London flat. He’s been knocked down on the street, and she, with the most altruistic intentions, is swift to assist him. His method of repaying her kindness is over the top. He showers her with expensive gifts and experiences, provides unbelievable discounts on almost anything she wants to buy. And she accepts it all never wanting to know what’s behind this largesse. The serpent has offered the apple and Sasha takes more than one bite.

Sean G. Griffin, as “Uncle Val” the beneficent Santa, wears his patina of grace with aplomb, but, of course, this old St. Nick has an unsavory backstory. And there is the moment when he turns that avuncular generosity into hateful threat. It’s a nuanced, powerful performance. Emily Chisholm as Sasha personifies naiveté, so naive is she, she doesn’t see the insidious nature of the change she undergoes as the play progresses. The contrast between Chisholm and Elinor Gunn who plays her world-wise but romantically naive sister is delectable. All five cast members are in top form here.

The only weakness in this piece is that Sasha is simply too innocent to be totally believable. It’s not easy to accept the all-too-wise, savvy woman she becomes at play’s end. That is a bit too contrived for me, but everything else works in this production.

Through Nov. 3 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

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