CONFUSIONS, Pendulum Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Studio Theatre. These five early (1974) Alan Ayckbourn one-acts betray his characteristic mix of caustic compassion and affectionate analysis, and Bill Redding's staging, with its impeccable accents and reliable timing, revels in Ayckbourn's round dance of loosely linked characters, lonely souls desperately trying to fend off chaos.
In "Mother Figure," the title nurturer slowly reduces her quarrelsome neighbors to miserable inner children dutifully drinking their milk and apologizing for their feelings. Fittingly, the next scene exposes the absent husband, who's been alienated by his wife's arrested development. Sadly sozzled, he clumsily attempts to seduce two unamused young ladies. "Between Mouthfuls" is typical of the ever experimental Ayckbourn: he allows us to hear only a waiter, officiously shuttling between two tables--two cantankerous couples who, due to extramarital complications, must never be allowed to meet. Redding plays the impassive waiter with a comically eroding dignity.
A popular one-act on its own, the farcical "Gosforth's Fete" depicts a garden party at which scandalous revelations are broadcast on loudspeakers, the sound system burns up, a scaffolding collapses on some bratty kids, and a pompous character from the previous scene gets shock therapy. The sensation here is Joseph Fosco's neatly escalating sound design. And in "A Talk in the Park" Ayckbourn deftly depicts five strangers playing a game of musical benches. Each sad soul displaces another, only to be similarly silenced. Aching, bittersweet, it's carried off with perfect pathos.