Sir Alan Ayckbourn has two sons, but “My Wonderful Day” represents the first of the British author’s now 73 plays (and counting) written from the perspective of a child. The 2009 comedy also stands as his first work to feature roles written specifically for black actors. Zeitgeist Stage Company gave this welcome departure from Ayckbourn’s usual fare an exuberant New England premiere as auspicious as its title.
Set in the London townhouse of a minor fictional English television celebrity named Kevin, “My Wonderful Day” brings in a 9-year-old named Winnie, along with her mother Laverne, as the latter cleans for Kevin and his BAFTA award-winning film editor wife Paula.
Sick and off from school, Winnie is writing an assigned essay with the same title as the play. The day in question is Tuesday, which pregnant Laverne has designated for speaking French since she longs to take Winnie and her future son — whom she plans to name Jericho Alexander Samson — to Martinique, the homeland of her parents.
While Laverne cleans, Winnie observes the comings and goings of Kevin, his mistress Tiffany, his friend Josh and eventually Paula. Ayckbourn speaks of Winnie as a “small recording machine,” and the description is uncannily apt. Throughout the no-intermission 105-minute play, the all-hearing and seeing school girl takes scrupulous notes of Kevin’s indiscretions with Tiffany, the salty language of all of the white adults at the townhouse and Paula’s bedroom discovery.
The result is an essay that proves to be a real eye-opener for Laverne when Winnie comes to see her and her newborn brother at the hospital.
On one level, the play suggests that the townhouse adults exercise no restraint both because she speaks French and because she is a child. At the same time, Ayckbourn’s disarmingly straightforward play implies that the foursome — especially Kevin, who seems to not know Laverne’s name — treats the mother and daughter as though they are invisible because they are black. It is these considerations, aside from Ayckbourn’s talent for creating striking comic situations and writing appealing humorous banter, that makes “My Wonderful Day” distinctive.
Director David J. Miller demonstrates a strong feel for Ayckbourn’s more disquieting work last season with Zeitgeist’s memorable staging of his 2004 play “Private Fears in Public Places.”
He is now showing the same kind of impressive authority with the lighter fare of “My Wonderful Day.”
The cast makes a solid ensemble. Obehi Janice captures Laverne’ s maternal warmth and her vulnerability as a pregnant wife left by her husband. Janice also captures Laverne’s insightfulness about the people around her.
John Romualdi has the right shallowness as self-absorbed Kevin, and Angela Smith catches fire as vindictive wife Paula. Craig Houk is properly clueless as Josh and especially amusing as a snoring sleeper. Becca A. Lewis, very good in “Private Fears,” once again displays a facility for physical comedy, here with vivid gesturing as she speaks a kind of baby talk to Winnie.
Most of all there is Hyacinth Tauriac (who alternates with Alanna Logan), very striking in her Zeitgeist debut as Winnie herself. The experienced 10-year-old black actress — who already boasts roles in the August Wilson masterwork “Fences” at Huntington Theatre Company and “Annie” at Wheelock Family Theatre, displays the poise and discipline of a seasoned actress as she smoothly moves back and forth between French and English and expresses surprise and a variety of other reactions to the strange actions she observes and rough language she hears.
She also does well as Winnie shared warm moments with her mother as Laverne spoke of Martinique and a better future.
Kevin and Paula are a disaster as a couple. By contrast, Zeitgeist and Ayckbourn continue to be a matchless match, with “My Wonderful Day,” the company’s second model essay of a staging.
“My Wonderful Day,” Zeitgeist Stage, Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, through March 26. For more information, call 617-933-8600 or visit bostontheatrescene.com