Saturday, April 21, 2018

“How The Other Half Loves”~ And Lies In Alan Ayckbourn's Drawing Room Comedy


Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 1969 drawing room comedy “How The Other Half Loves” now playing at North Coast Repertory Theatre through May 13th, weaves its way through the loves, lies and lives of three couples where the bosses wife of one is having an affair with the husband one of his employees, and for reasons you will learn as this disaster grows, a third couple is dragged into their mess just for cover.  
James Newcomb and Jacquelyn Ritz
Now there’s nothing unusual about husbands and wives cheating, getting even, blaming others for their woes, having affairs with the bosses’ wife, and unruly kids but Ayckbourn takes it to extremes to ferret out suspicions and infidelity by using sex and status as a means to an end.  

In the meantime, the audience is treated to some mind whirling excuses; innuendos and half -truths, (or half lies) in the untangling of these messed up couples. 
Christopher M. Williams and Sharon Rietkerk
Ayckbourn’s dealings in ordinary matters become extraordinary when the cleverness in his staging turns the so- called affair of who said what and where into what feels like farce by the time the dinner scene unfolds.

The setup is more fun to watch than to discover how who learns what between these sets of characters, in a play that is rife with chauvinistic references and bully tactics, but its clever to watch it all unfold none-the –less.
Noelle Marion and Benjamin Cole
With spot on directing by Geoffrey Sherman, a well choreographed cast and a very clever set by Marty Burnett (as directed in notes by the playwright), both homes share the same space but have separate overlapping living rooms, dining rooms with all the actions (comings and goings) taking place simultaneously. It’s almost like being stuck in a revolving door and seeing the same people going around in another revolving door.   

Frank Foster and his wife Fiona (James Newcomb and Jacquelyn Ritz) are what some might refer to as London’s upper-middle class. Their living spaces have current period furniture with polished veneers and well appointed in browns and tan colors. She serves meals on a tray, and her hardcore politeness comes in sugarcoated packages that can easily pass as sincere.

Frank owns his own company, which is almost hard to believe since he is a master blunderer who doesn’t really pay attention. He tends to go off on tangents, mumbles and for the most part doesn’t see what’s right under his nose.

Fiona, on the other hand, knows just how to handle her bumbling husband; gently and with a knowing hand she plays right into his idiosyncrasies. Both Newcomb and Ritz are a perfect fit.
   
Bob Phillips and his wife Teresa (Christopher M. Williams and Sharon Rietkerk) are the complete opposite. He works for Frank and if one could describe his personality, it might read ego centric, caustic and indifferent to his wife’s needs especially with help raising their infant son. But when they love make, its passionate.

Their place is shabby and worn looking in need of some fresh paint. When she makes coffee it’s for one, herself. When she makes him a bite to eat she tosses it at him in sandwich form.

Teresa finds time in her day tending or not their (not seen) son Benjamin, and cutting out clippings from the Guardian and writing angry letters back. On first encounter one might get the idea that she too is indifferent, but watch out for that passive aggressive and raucous personality of hers. Both Williams and Rietkerk play beautifully against each other as well.
James Newcomb, Noelle Marian, Sharon Rietkirk, Benjamin Cole, Jacquelyn Ritz and Christopher M. Williams (foreground) 
William and Mary Featherstone (Benjamin Cole and Noelle Marion) are the frosting on the cake couple whose marriage might look conventional but is anything but. He’s a bully, she dull and neurotic at first sight. She bites her nails and he slaps her hands and makes sure everyone knows how much work he puts into their marriage.

William is the new transferee to Bob Phillips’ accounting department; it’s a promotion for him. What we know about his neurotic wife is sketchy and when we first meet her some serious behavior questions surface. Both Cole and Marion make this little farce complete in an unexpected turn about, that some might call fair play.    

Bob and Fiona use what little cover they have for an alibi for their liaison to bring the Featherstone’s, William and Mary, into the equation by indicating that their marriage was in trouble. 

Both couples invent a story about the Featherstone’s and then invite them to a dinner party on successive nights to smooth things over. What we see might be a scene out of Albee’s “Virginia Woolf” but not quite as deadly.
Noelle Marion, Sharon Rietkerk, Benjamine Cole and Christopher M. Williams
In a smartly orchestrated turn of events the couples sit down for dinner at the same table and on alternative nights, sharing a meal with their hosts, concurrently. With a small half -degree turn of a chair they are in the Fosters and in another turn they are eating something unrecognizable at the Phillips. You can imagine that nothing goes right on either night, but that’s not the best of it.   

It’s all in the timing and for the record its spot on and eye popping fun aided by Matt Novotny’s lighting design, Elsa Benzoni’s accurate 60’s dress look, Aaron Rumley sound design and Holly Gillard’s props and for a second shout out Marty Burnett’s dual personality set design.

If the other half of the other halves love, as the title implies they do, heaven help us.

Enjoy!

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through May 13th
Organization: North Coast Rep.
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe drive, Ste. D Solana Beach, CA 92075
Ticket Prices: Start at$ 49.00
Web: northcoastrep.org
Photo: Aaron Rumley

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