In Laughter in the Dark, a comprehensive study of the plays of Alan Ayckbourn, Britain's most prolific contemporary dramatist, Albert E. Kalson demonstrates that a recurring character is a development of the persona of the author himself. The protagonist with a divided personality in Ayckbourn's first play, The Square Cat, a reluctant rock star who longs for a conventional life, splits into opposing characters in his later works. In the recent The Revenger's Comedies, a man sharing his author's offstage diffidence finds himself in the control of a flamboyant woman who is, as Ayckbourn himself has been, both performer and director, as she manipulates her way to the top of a multinational corporation mirroring the Britain of the Thatcher years. Once considered a mere farceur, Ayckbourn has won critical respect as his plays reflect the breakdown of self, family, and community. The moving portrait of a woman on the brink of insanity in Just Between Ourselves is a development of The Square Cat's dissatisfied housewife, who reemerges as the giddily bewildered wife of a philandering husband in the delightfully frothy Relatively Speaking. Madness is more fully, more darkly etched in Woman in Mind and leads to the more disturbing madness of the world at large in The Revenger's Comedies, even to that of the universe itself in Wildest Dreams. Ayckbourn has explored the encroachment of evil within the social and political contexts of Way Upstream, A Small Family Business, and Man of the Moment, and his nightmare vision of the future in Henceforward ... seems uncomfortably close to the contemporary, automated world in which man is replaced by machine. Kalson explores what he calls the Ayckbourn A-effect. Like Bertolt Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, Ayckbourn's method insists on an audience's awareness of the actor at once as character and performer; but unlike Brecht's didactic works aimed at rousing an audience to action, Ayckbourn uses his A-effect to heighten an audience's exhilaration. Laughter, he knows, does not preclude the engagement of the mind. Brecht distances his audiences by suggesting unperformed alternate possibilities; Ayckbourn engages his audience by providing those alternates. In How the Other Half Loves the overlapping of time and place provides a telling commentary on Britain's class structure. The technique leads Ayckbourn to expand the limits of theatrical presentation even further with alternate scenes in Sisterly Feelings, even alternate plays in The Norman Conquests, climaxing with Intimate Exchanges, an extraordinary work for two performers that moves in sixteen directions, stemming from a woman's seemingly trivial decision whether to have or not to have a cigarette. The role in our lives of chance and/or choice is a recurring concern for a playwright who never loses sight of his primary function - to entertain his audience. Remarkably, as Ayckbourn's plays darken, that audience continues to roar with laughter, but after the laughter comes a contemplation of a less-than-perfect world.