The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, November 11, 2011, Arts

Guest by Courtesy

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 474-7886
Through Nov. 19
Running time: 1 hr., 5 min.

I much prefer walking into a play without knowing anything about it. While familiarity is often comforting and safe, it is not necessarily your friend when it comes to watching live theatre. And while I certainly know the work of most everyone involved in this latest original offering at the Salvage Vanguard Theater, I didn't know another thing about this show outside of the title.

And the title doesn't tell you much, suggesting some kind of domestic comedy taking place in a hotel. But with a little Googling, you'll find that the show is considerably less pedestrian than it might seem at first glance. Hannah Kenah, the writer of the piece who also plays one of the two female roles, most likely drew her inspiration from the book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home by none other than that keeper of the flame of politeness, Emily Post. Along with the stilted, almost obsequious prose that Post utilizes in Etiquette to describe polite behavior in good society, she also uses archetypal sorts of names to denote her characters, like Mrs. Kindhart and Mrs. Worldly. Kenah does the same, but with a wicked twist: naming her characters things like Mr. Figleaf and having the two female cousins always using the most polite language despite the fact that neither one really seems to like the other much at all.

Or perhaps they do. It's often hard to tell as the two cousins, the wealthier one played by Kenah and the less wealthy one played by Jenny Larson, bounce back and forth between all-out war and laughing fits, between adolescent ridicule and adult prevarication. The duo seem, in fact, to be two sides of a single coin: one side the utter boredom and empty preciousness of polite society, and the other side attempting to please and wanting to fit in. This two-sidedness is evident from the very first, for when audience members enter the theatre, they're confronted with the figures of Kenah and Larson sitting facing them on what is obviously a sofa but concealed with a sheet, nothing showing but the bare toes of their feet. Then, at the beginning of the show, as a simple, quietly appropriate Graham Reynolds piano piece plays, the sheet is slowly pulled off of them and reveals not only the actors, but the characters: Kenah in a pink party gown and Larson in a much more plain, conservative shift; Kenah slumped on the couch in boredom and Larson sitting up and forward in intense anticipation.

And then it's pretty much a comedic battle for control, one wanting nothing but the civility of a cup of tea and the other wanting nothing but to smash the teapot. Ably assisted by Jason Hays (in multiple roles as the husband of one, the lover of the other, and a pair of disembodied hands that present invisible props and play a variety of roles all by themselves), Larson and Kenah, with perfect comic timing and tempo, keep us laughing for a good solid hour. And you, dear reader, are most certainly invited.

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