Casting is all, and director Michael Marotta has come up with a sextet of performers who lift Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy “How the Other Half Loves” a notch with crisply detailed characterizations and fine ensemble work.
In fact, they’re so good that you begin thinking about other parts you’d like to see them play.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This script is from 1969, when Ayckbourn was 30. Marotta wisely leaves the piece in that period, with Michelle Blanchard’s delicious costumes, Abe Phelps’ colorful set, and tunes such as “A Taste of Honey” and “It’s a Happening” aptly punctuating the proceedings.
Bob Phillips (Brian Allard) is having an affair with his boss’s wife, Fiona Foster (Kathleen Carey). To distract their respective spouses, Teresa (Amanda McCallum) and Frank (John Philip Cromie), the lovers concoct rumors about a third couple, Mary (Jenna Doolittle) and William (Harry Vaughn), he an up-and-comer in Frank’s office, and she a nervous young corporate wife. Lies lead to confusion; confusion leads — generally — to audience laughter.
Ayckbourn’s stagecraft is clever. One set serves for the London living rooms of the Fosters and the Phillipses, and both couples play scenes on the set simultaneously: time and space conflated.
The last half of Act 1 provides an even greater conflation, as William and Mary have dinner with both couples at the same time on Thursday and Friday nights, a theatrical conceit that showcases the performers’ split-second timing.
These farcical elements are embedded in a play that has its darker moments. Husbands hitting wives? A neglected baby, whose presence throughout becomes the object of jokes and an inconvenience to his parents? There are tonal shifts that sometimes throw off your expectations of an unmitigated comedy; wisely, I think, Marotta and his cast don’t try to find lightness where it isn’t.
These richly layered characterizations are impressive. Cromie’s Frank seems a mere bumbler, but whenever he sniffs deception, he causes a sweat. Allard’s Bob is believably brutish, which may be the quality that attracts the upper-class Fiona. Allard doesn’t flinch from risking our dislike of Bob.
McCallum’s Teresa is a whirlwind of frustration, a housewife who would like to have a voice in the world, as well as her own home. Poignant and powerful.
Carey plays another kind of wife, one who has taken matters into her own, capable hands. A bit steely, this Fiona, yet Carey can quickly reveal her depths with a funny, panic-stricken look or a hesitant reply.
Doolittle’s Mary makes sounds and faces that hilariously manifest this young woman’s insecurities, but, like the other women, Mary finds a spine. And Vaughn’s William is a buttoned-up bundle of boyish enthusiasm until an emotional meltdown in Act 2, which Vaughn paces beautifully. It’s superb work all around, replete with British accents.
The Theater Barn is celebrating its 25th season. It’s a class operation.
‘How the Other Half Loves’
WHERE: Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon
WHEN: Through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: 794-8989