By Karen Isaacs
Bedroom Farce, the Alan Ayckbourn play getting a fine production at Westport Country Playhouse through Sept. 13, could be accused of misleading advertising.
When most people think of “bedroom farce” they expect sexual double entendres, slamming of doors and people just missing seeing what they should not see and the possibility of adultery or at least seduction. They may think of such British sex/bedroom farces as “No Sex, Please” and “Not with My Wife” and others.
While the Ayckbourn play is set in the bedroom – three of them to be exact – there is remarkably little actual sex discussed.
Instead we have a comedy about four marriages and the stresses that accompany each of them. We also have witty dialogue and some slapstick.
Once again, Westport has turned to the sure hand of John Tillinger, who is an expert at directing these works for a fast paced, and well thought out production. Tillinger is a master of Ayckbourn, Orton (he will direct a production of the playwright’s next year at Westport) and Gurney.
The set opens on three bedrooms. One belongs to Delia and Ernest, a long married couple preparing to celebrate their anniversary by going out to dinner – that is if Delia can ever be ready. Then there is Jan and Nick, a young couple; Nick is in bed in great pain because of a back sprain but Jan is planning on “dropping in” on friends’ house-warming party. The third bedroom belongs to Malcolm and Kate, the couple hosting the party who seem to enjoy playing practical jokes on each other.
But all are discussing Trevor and Susannah – the fourth couple, whose marriage is volatile and facing yet another crises. Trevor is Delia and Ernest’s son and Jan was his former girlfriend. They also are expected at the party, though Malcolm is afraid the two will create yet another scene.
So what happens? In the course 12 hours, things go just about as feared. First Trevor and then Susannah appear at the party, each with his/her own neurosis. When they actually get together at the party, the scene that results causes all the other guests to promptly leave; a situation that annoys Malcolm. When Kate agrees that Trevor can stay over – since Susannah has taken the car and will probably not let him into the house, Malcolm is ready to boil over.
But Trevor, in some ways endearing and other ways very obtuse, has decided he must go and tell Nick about a kiss that he and Jan shared at the party. Susannah doesn’t go home but ends up at her in-laws which results in Ernest being relegated to the spare room.
By the time morning come, everyone is exhausted but Trevor and Susannah who have made up and decided to try again.
What makes this such an enjoyable evening is the outstanding performances. Matthew Greer is Nick, confined to the bed because of his back except when he falls out or is tossed and turned by either Trevor or Jan. Each time, you grimace knowing the pain he is in.
Paxton Whitehead uses his inimitable double take as Ernest. He is a stereotype of the man who sometimes “just doesn’t get it.” Cecilia Hart is also good as Delia; the role is less outwardly comic but her advice to Susannah about sex is hilarious.
Scott Drummond is a tightly coiled spring as Malcolm; everyone who has ever wrestled with a do-it-yourself kit will sympathize with his efforts and frustrations particularly in the middle of the night.
The two most underwritten roles are Jan, played by Nicole Lowrance with a hint of exasperation and Kate, played by Claire Karpen.
As Trevor and Susannah, Carson Elrod and Sarah Manton, must carry the burden of being the annoying characters, yet they must infuse them with likeability so that the audience feels sympathetic towards them. Carson Elrod as Trevor is a bundle of nervous ticks, good intentions but poor timing and a total lack of awareness of social mores. The night I saw the play, a cell phone went off and his reaction was totally in character without saying a word. Susannah is totally different. She is quieter, perhaps depressed or lacking in self-confidence but also totally unable to understand the dynamics of the situation.
It is to the credit of Elrod and Manton that despite their characters; irritating traits and actions, we somehow like them. We may not believe that they will actually “make it” but to some extent, we hope they do.
Credit must be given to the sets of Marjorie Bradley Kellogg that help establish the personalities of the three couples as reflected in their bedroom; so do the costumes by Laurie Churba.
Bedroom Farce, may not live up to the expectations of the title, but it provides lots of laughs.
For tickets, contact Westport call 888-927-7529.