Playing with Fate in “Intimate Exchanges”

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Jade Ziane. Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography

Presented by The Nora Theatre Company
Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Olivia D’Ambrosio

January 12-February 12, 2017
Central Square Theatre
450 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
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Review by Travis Manni

(Cambridge, MA) There truly is nothing like the unique experience of theatre. And in Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges, the audience is presented with a choose-your-own-adventure in which no performance is ever identical to the one before.

In Intimate Exchanges, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Jade Ziane play the various female and male roles respectively. In the version that I witnessed, the show opens on Celia Teasdale walking into the backyard of her estate and deciding to smoke a cigarette, the first instance of choice. Feeling distant from her drunken husband, the headmaster at a private academy, she flirts with the idea of starting a love affair with the hot groundskeeper. But when the couple decide to go on holiday to try and rekindle their marriage, Celia realizes, perhaps too late, that her romantic stint with the young, impressionable handyman was too much too fast.

Sadly, the characters in this show are uninteresting and unoriginal. They felt like stock representations of what they were, and without any character development, it was impossible to become invested in the fate of any single person. Which is why it was rather disappointing to sit through a show largely about fate and choices, and yet never feel connected to the characters.

Besides weak characters, my biggest pet peeve throughout Intimate Exchanges was the English accents, which became quite tiresome. The show would have functioned better if moved to an American landscape for the sake of its American audience. Furthermore, I struggled at many points to understand what was being said.

As far as performances, Bedard does a good job as Celia, though at times the character felt so frantic that she became unrealistic. Her portrayal of immature housekeeper Sylvie, whose fate is more closely followed depending on the performance you attend, was a well-executed transition from the more astute characteristics of Celia. And Ziane does a fine job with both the grouchy and clueless Mr. Teasdale, as well as the young-and-in-love groundskeeper, carefully executing the escalating desperation both people feel.

Anne Sherer’s set design was pristine, making the world both accessible and desirable. The window frames and garden trestles reaching up to the ceiling created a feeling of infinite space. The pieces were also versatile and worked efficiently to orient the audience to various scenes.

While the version of Intimate Exchanges that I saw didn’t unfold in a way I found particularly compelling, I can’t speak for the alternate routes it could’ve taken. Fate is a fickle thing, and it has many stories to tell. At intermission, when the audience gets to decide the path the characters will take in the second act, I admit I tossed my marble in a vase labeled “Funeral” with earnest. Even with its disappointments, Intimate Exchanges is a fun opportunity to pull the strings of destiny, or cut them off altogether.

Intimate Exchanges runs for 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. To purchase tickets, click here.

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