The conqueror worm

Joking Apart Theater sets the stage for snideness

by Greg Corradini

When all parties have been seduced and every one is a loser, sexual action is still one man’s conquest.

Meet Norman (Edwin Strout), an ill-mannered English cad in a sexual midlife crisis. Cold meat sandwiches and corn flakes don’t excite his nerve endings. In fact, neither does his wife, the old dried-up tea bag. He is our tour guide in the fun and farcical romp that is “The Norman Conquests.”

Not that Norman is the focal point of “The Norman Conquests,” a series of three plays from different perspectives about the same dysfunctional weekend.

No, “The Norman Conquests” is about family – a bickering and bawdy English family – and all the lonely souls that comprise it.

“Table Manners,” the first installment in the trilogy, takes place solely in a dining room.

The play is about the impact that Norman’s affair with his sister-in-law Annie (Karla Reck) has on his familial dining habits.

In a fifteen-minute section of the second scene, Norman slouches at one end of the breakfast table in pin-stripped pajamas. He frowns, winces and groans to no avail.

His brother and sister-in-laws, clumped around the opposite end of the table, refuse to feed him or pay him any attention after they become privy to his affair. They butter their toast and sip from their coffee mugs indifferently.

So Norman engages in witty breakfast banter with himself, alternating between roles as a psychic, a whining child and annoying brute.

This is Norman, part child/part showman.

These antics also happen to be just what wins the audience’s affection.

There are few plot devices to drive the action, so the brunt of the play relies on strong actors who play their characters’ highs and callous depths with conviction. In this play, all actors are worth their weight in farce.

Corissa White brings a very convincing double-edged steeliness to her role as Norman’s other sister-in-law, Sarah.

The audience can, in turns that threaten to cause whiplash, both pity and despise Sarah, a mother of two who is just as alone in her maternal duties as she is in her one-sided relationship with her husband.

She repeatedly makes a show of her passion and independence, but is still prudish enough to insist upon gender oriented seating arrangements at the dinner table.

And since Norman is the namesake of the trilogy, let’s talk about the fantastic Edwin Strout.

Just short of doing summersaults, he saunters and struts up and down the stage red-faced and maniacal.

It is his performance which carries the farcical weight of the production. But it is also his performance that conquers the psychological construct of a lonely man whose nerve endings aren’t being excited.