'All at Once' takes its time delivering dramatic punch

January 17, 1991|By Mike Giuliano

Middle-class stability sometimes turns out to be fragile and subject to dramatic change, as the hard-working and honorable William Knowland finds out in the Arena Players' production of Dennis Sook's "All at Once."

On Mr. Knowland's 60th birthday, he is fired from his editorial position at a publishing company and learns his financial investments have all turned to zeros. Mr. Knowland is not having a happy birthday.

Everything, indeed, has soured for him. But instead of dramatically telegraphing this bad news, the playwright's exposition is all too leisurely in the sluggish first act.

When Mr. Knowland (Gerard Catus) and his wife, a part-time travel agent named Patricia (Annette Burton), settle into their breakfast routine in the first scene, the natural give-and-take between them is agreeable.

But for all the pleasing domestic banter between the Knowlands, the play dawdles before delivering its long-expected dramatic punch.

Although Mr. Catus seems physically too young to put on the mannerisms of some body who has reached 60, he puts conviction into the part, as does Ms. Burton as Mrs. Knowland.

"All at Once" benefits from the guests who pop in for Mr. Knowland's suddenly gloomy birthday party. His longtime friend Dr. Thomas Hermann (Edward Smith) is a veterinarian who hates dogs and dislikes cats. The vet's wife, Delores (Kay Merriel), wants a face lift because she fears looking as droopy as a hound dog. Both Hermanns are not shy about helping themselves to food and drink at the Knowlands just before they are asked if they want anything.

Admittedly, there are too many so-so dog jokes in the script, but the Hermanns are still welcome comic sidekicks. It's too bad the playwright doesn't provide them with more stage time.

The other supporting players are a writer, Jean Quenby (Kamala Gordon), and a nerdy financial adviser, David Daniels (Danny Gray). These two performances rely on obvious effects that tip the balance too far into sitcom silliness.

"All at Once" is at Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St., through Feb. 3. For ticket information, call 728-6500.

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