Ivoryton Playhouse Scores with Hilarious 'How The Other Half Loves'
Two couples lead parallel lives on a set in which their two homes are dovetailed together. Each couple interacts separately, but simultaneously, with a third couple, until partway into the second act, when they all come together in real time.
Sound confusing? It's much harder to explain Alan Ayckbourn's domestic comedy How the Other Half Loves, now on stage at the Ivoryton Playhouse, than it is to experience it. And that's the genius in Ayckbourn's complexly layered, time-juggling scripts.
The prolific English playwright who has "show, don't tell" down to a science has authored 73 plays, many of which have been produced on London's West End and on Broadway. His plays range from such comedic hits as Absurd Person Singular (1975) to Private Fears in Public Places (2004).
The Ivoryton clearly took a big risk presenting such a challenging production, but has pulled it off beautifully because:
1) Director Larry Thelen has precisely crafted the choreography at every twist and turn.
2) The play's six actors are equally up to the awesome task of getting the audience to suspend disbelief by making the strangest of circumstances make sense.
3) Tony Andrea has created a cleverly executed "split" set in which a formally furnished downstairs is fused with one that is messy and less well-appointed-emphasizing the contrasts between classes that Ayckbourn's comedies are known for. LisaMarie Harry's well-chosen late-'60s/early-'70s costumes also emphasize the differences in the couples' positions on the social ladder.
The play takes place in London, 1970. Fiona Foster (Jacqueline Hubbard) is having an affair with Bob Phillips (Nick Stevenson), unbeknownst to their respective spouses, Frank Foster (Bill Klux) and Theresa Phillips (Beverley Taylor). The cheating spouses both use the unsuspecting and innocent William Detweiler (B. Brian Argotsinger) and his wife Mary (Alanna Wilson) as alibis for not having come home until the wee hours earlier that week. The Detweilers are invited to dinner parties at both couple's homes on consecutive nights. These dinner parties occur on stage at the same time. The comedy and craziness escalate as the "victims" get closer to discovering the truth.
Hubbard, the Playhouse's executive/artistic director, and Taylor, the theater's company manager, are both English and therefore delivering their lines with authentic accents is no problem. Both are marvelous as bored housewives with very different personalities. As the refined Fiona, Hubbard never looses her cool while lying through her teeth, although you can see the panic just under the surface. On the other hand, Taylor lets it all out as the quick-tempered Theresa-no subterfuge there.
Klux does a funny straightman portrayal of the un-scintillating Frank, tuned into every dull mechanical detail of life, but completely oblivious to what's happening right under his nose in his marriage. Also in complete contrast is Stevenson as Theresa's husband Bob, who has his character's disaffected swagger down pat.
What both men have in common is demanding their coffee every morning and not taking the slightest initiative to romance their frustrated wives. One can debate whether or not this dates the 40-plus-year old play.
Argotsinger and Wilson round out the performance and bring the humor up a notch by maintaining a constant look of astonishment on their faces and reacting to the bizarre circumstances with a combination of naïve denial and heartfelt outrage.
The play runs long at more than two hours with one, 15-minute intermission, but, for the most part, the momentum is maintained and a fine cast keeps the audience engaged in the universal themes of marriage and infidelity and ensuing hijinks.
How The Other Half Loves continues through Sunday, May 1 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton.
For tickets and show schedule, call the box office at 860-767-7318 or visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
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