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Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - Page updated at 11:30 p.m.

Ayckbourn to direct 'Sugar Daddies' at Seattle's ACT in 2013

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

A top British playwright will make his West Coast directing debut at ACT Theatre in Seattle next year.

Alan Ayckbourn, the esteemed author of more than 70 plays, who has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his theatrical achievements, will stage the U.S. premiere of his 2003 comedy, "Sugar Daddies," at ACT in fall of 2013 (exact dates to be announced).

Ayckbourn is prized on both sides of the Atlantic as an ingenious master of modern comedy, attuned to the longings and foibles of modern British suburbanites. He's also been an avid experimenter with dramatic form. In one of his best-known works, "The Norman Conquests," events unfolding simultaneously in several areas of a country home are enacted in different scenes.

The 73-year-old dramatist's many honors include two Tony Awards and a Laurence Olivier Award, and his works have been translated into 35 languages and performed internationally.

For many years, Ayckbourn was the artistic head of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England. He has also staged shows on Broadway, throughout the U.K. and in several U.S. cities.

ACT's "Sugar Daddies" will mark Ayckbourn's West Coast directing debut, but the Seattle theater company has long been an avid presenter of his work. Starting with "Relatively Speaking" in 1976, ACT has mounted nine of his plays; the most recent was "Intimate Exchanges" in 2008.

"It's a dream come true to have Sir Alan coming here," says ACT artistic head Kurt Beattie. "His plays reach the deepest and most painful parts of being human, and at the same time manage to be enormously entertaining."

Beattie invited Ayckbourn by mail to work with ACT. Later, a convivial dinner with the playwright in Scarborough, arranged by mutual friends, sealed the deal.

One draw here for Ayckbourn, says Beattie, is ACT's circular Allen Theatre. "He's a great proponent of theater in the round, and stages almost all of his productions that way."

"Sugar Daddies," Ayckbourn's 63rd play, is described by the author as "a comedy of dark intentions," in which a close relationship develops between a young woman and a rich, generous, rather sinister man in his 70s.

According to a review in The Sunday Times of London, "This delicately drawn relationship is disarmingly framed by two farcical characters turned inside out ... That both these apparent caricatures turn out to be truthful characters is a measure of the evening's moral drive. Ayckbourn has done it again."

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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