Nancy Sasso Janis
In some ways, the title of the play ‘Bedroom Farce’ by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn says it all. In his nineteenth full-length play written in 1975, there is rollicking comedy that takes place over one long Saturday evening and it is all set in three separate bedrooms. The relationships of four couples (and one almost love triangle) are on display in the room where humans spend a large chunk of their time, at their best and their worst. The focus is on the couples at various stages in their marriages, with only cursory bawdy elements, and it is all played for laughs.
Director John Tillinger (‘Things We Do For Love,’ ‘How the Other Half Loves’) precisely managed the constant switching between the three bedrooms lined up on the stage of the beautiful Westport Country Playhouse where this piece runs through September 13. Lighting designed by John Demous masterfully helped the process, as did the scenic design of the three distinct bedrooms and hallways by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg. Mr. Tillinger also beautifully oversaw the intricate arrivals and departures (actually the title of another of this playwright’s works) of the eight cast members; Robert Westley gets the credit for “movement choreography.” Shane Ann Younts served as dialect coach for the mostly British accents and the actors proved up to the challenge.
In his notes, Artistic Director Mark Lamos focuses on the need for great ensemble acting in Mr. Ayckbourn’s plays. “His greatness as a writer has always depended on the interaction of a group of people in situations that crackle with comic conflict,” he writes. The director of his plays must seek a company of actors that are equal in their ability to bring out their own character as well as mesh into a team of players that work together as a strong company. This Equity cast is an impressive one that masterfully does just that.
In alphabetical order, Scott Drummond made his debut at the playhouse as he played the young husband Malcolm. Carson Elrod, who appeared in ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ on Broadway, was the even younger and spastic Trevor. Matthew Greer, who was in the national tour of ‘Spamalot,’ was (almost) confined to bed as Nick. Cecilia Hart returned to WCP to play a mature wife named Delia and Claire Karpen (‘The Sixties Project’ at Goodspeed) glowed as Malcolm’s wife Kate. Nicole Lowrance, another WCP alum, was the lovely wife of Nick named Jan. Sarah Manton, with many London credits, played Susannah, the young bride of Trevor and Paxton Whitehead was the husband of Delia called Ernest. Mr. Whitehead won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Work for ‘Noises Off’ on Broadway. The characters are easier to follow than it might seem and of course some are related to each other in other ways.
The costumes for the English characters of different generations were beautifully designed by Laurie Churba. The aforementioned lighting by Mr. Demous enhanced them nicely, as it did the meticulously decorated bedrooms with props by Karin White. Kudos to Production Stage Manager Megan Smith for riding herd over the nonstop action.
I enjoyed this production for what it was, an intricate and rollicking farce. The packed audience was laughing throughout. One actor deftly incorporated an audience member’s ringing cell phone into his performance on opening night despite the fact that Mr. Lamos had reminded us to turn them off. He even suggested asking someone young nearby for instructions on how to do so in order to enjoy “the pleasure of two hours without a cell phone.”
Westport Country Playhouse has announced their most ambitious lineup for next season. ‘Art’ and ‘Red’ will play in repertory in May, followed by “Buyer and Cellar,” ‘The Invisible Hand,’ and ‘What the Butler Saw.’ A brand new version of ‘Camelot’ will close out the season that runs through October of next year.