Tag Archives: Paxton Whitehead

Eccentrics Unite: Westport’s “Lettice & Lovage” Features Fine Performances

Lettice&Lovage_PaxtonWhitehead_MiaDillon_KandisChappell_byCRosegg_334a_edited

Paxton Whitehead, Mia Dillon and Kandis Chappell. Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 Lettice & Lovage is a play with a “cute” and confusing title that somehow reflects the play itself. Its current production at Westport Country Playhouse (through June 17) shows what is best in the play and also its weaknesses.

The original production of the play by Peter Shaffer (Amadeus, Equus and more) starred two of the great actresses of the British stage: the better known Dame Maggie Smith (as Lettice) and Margaret Tyzack. It was a tour de force for Maggie Smith.

Lettice Duffet is an eccentric older woman of limited means. The play opens with her giving a tour of one England’s National Trust properties, the very dull Fustian Manor House. Not much happened there except that Queen Elizabeth I almost fell down the stairs. The house itself is not very interesting either. The tourists are bored. But in a series of brief scenes, we see Lettice slowly expand on the facts about the house until they are scarcely recognizable. Each time we see the stories become more dramatic (to the point of impossibility) and additional stories appear. Of course, some tourists find her loose regard for the facts disturbing.

The personnel officer of the Trust visits and observes one of the more dramatic tellings of the house’s stories. Lettice is called on the carpet. But she doesn’t arrive in Charlotte Schoen’s office (another older, single woman) chastened or apologetic. Lettice is her own flamboyant self. She continually derails the conversation with stories of her mother, an actress who translated Shakespeare into French and toured the French countryside with a troupe of all women.

Nevertheless she is fired.

After the intermission (Acts 2 and 3 are combined), Lotte shows up at Lettice’s basement flat (equally flamboyant). Something Lettice had said about older women, has struck a chord with Lotte. She comes to offer the possibility of a job as a tour guide on one of London’s tourist boats. Lettice insists they toast with a liquor she has made from lovage (an edible member of the parsley family used in Elizabethan times.)  The two women drink quite a bit and each reveals something about her life. Lotte had studied architecture and had been in love with an engineering student; they had planned on blowing up one of the examples of 1950s architecture which they viewed as particularly horrendous. They even called themselves the E.N.D. (Eyesore Negation Detachment). But she backed out and the romance ended. She was so upset, she failed her exams and instead became a personnel officer.

By the time we get to the third act, it is months later and Lotte and Lettice have become fast friends; except Lettice is charged with trying to murder Lotte. I’ll not spoil the scene with giving you the details of what happened, why or how.

It ends with the two of them going into the tour business: conducting tours of the most hideous examples of modern architecture.

Even with a last minute illness that forced a change in the central role, Mark Lamos has cast this excellently and directed deftly. But even he can’t overcome some of the problems.

First is that the play seems just too long and with too much talk. It is under two and half hours but it seems longer. The night I saw it, the production started late and the intermission seemed overly long. Still we were out of the theater by 10:20 (for an 8 pm show).

Why does it seem long?  It’s just that each scene and each idea is over-talked.

So let us turn to the plusses of this production. Certainly some of the idea that Shaffer focuses on are still very current. Older women (and men) often have difficulty finding employment. Older women’s economic circumstances are more limited and precarious than men’s. Must of the architecture of the last 70 years is particularly graceless: huge concrete squares and rectangles often replacing much interesting older buildings. Prince Charles made a controversial speech in which referred to some of the post-WW II buildings as monstrous carbuncles.

But these ideas get lost in the extraneous activities of the eccentric Lettice and soon, Lotte.

Kandi Chappell stepped into the daunting role of Lettice late in the rehearsals after medical issue cause the original actress to withdraw; she will be fine. She has done a splendid job with a very long part that requires panache. She has it.  Mia Dillon gives one of her regularly fine performances as Lotte. You see her liberate herself in so many ways.

Paxton Whitehead almost steals the entire show with a brief appearance as Lettice’s lawyer who must defend her on the attempted murder charge. It is hilarious, as you see him try to understand what went on and what is going on.

John Arnone has given us set that conveys the inner character of Lotte, Lettice and Faustian House. Jane Greenwood must have had a great time designing Lettice’s eccentric costumes.

Overall, Lettice and Lovage gives you fine performances in a play that you may find very enjoyable or a little long, depending on your mood.

It is at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. For tickets call 203-227-4177 or visit Westport Country Playhouse.

Lettice & Lovage 1 -Carol Rosegg

Mia Dillon and Kandis Chappell. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Advertisements

“Next To Normal,” “The Invisible Hand” Tops Connecticut Theater Critics Nominations

next to normal 2

Next to Normal. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

TheaterWork’s production of the musical “Next to Normal” led the nominations for the 27th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards event to be held Monday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield.

The show received a total of 10 nominations, including best musical. Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s play “The Invisible Hand” led the non-musicals, receiving seven nominations, including outstanding play.

Other outstanding play nominees are: “The Comedy of Errors” at Hartford Stage; “Mary Jane” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Scenes From Court Life” at Yale Repertory Theatre and “Midsummer” at TheaterWorks.

Also nominated for outstanding musical are: “Assassins” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Bye Bye Birdie” at Goodspeed Opera House, “Man of La Mancha” at Ivoryton Playhouse and “West Side Story” at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

The awards show, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public.

Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann will be the master of ceremonies for the event. Mann joined the Connecticut theater community this year as artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Last year’s top honorees — Yale Repertory Theatre’s play “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s musical “Anastasia” — are currently on Broadway.

Also receiving special awards this year are James Lecesne for his work using theater as a way to connect with LGBT youths in works such as his solo show “The Absolute Brightness off Leonard Pelkey,” which was presented this spring at Hartford Stage, and Paxton Whitehead, for his longtime career in theater, especially in Connecticut

Receiving the Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement is Paulette Haupt, who is stepping down after 40 years from her position as founding artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

Other nominees are:

Actor in a play: Jordan Lage, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tom Pecinka, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Michael Doherty, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; Eric Bryant, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; M. Scott McLean, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks.

Actress in a play: Semina DeLaurentis, “George & Gracie,” Seven Angels Theatre; Emily Donahoe, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ashlie Atkinson, “Imogen Says Nothing,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Vanessa R. Butler, “Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage; Rebecca Hart, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks

Actor in a musical: Robert Sean Leonard, “Camelot,” Westport Playhouse; Riley Costello, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; David Harris, “Next To Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Pittsinger, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Zach Schanne, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

Actress in a musical: Ruby Rakos, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Christiane Noll, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Julia Paladino, “West Side Story.” Karen Ziemba, “Gypsy, Sharon Playhouse; Talia Thiesfield, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse.

Director of a play: Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; David Kennedy, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Marc Bruni, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tracy Brigden, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks; Gordon Edelstein, “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre.

Director of a musical: Rob Ruggiero, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Edwards, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Melody Meitrott Libonati, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Jenn Thompson, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kevin Connors, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk.

Choreography:  Denis Jones, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Chris Bailey, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Doug Shankman, West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Patricia Wilcox, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Darlene Zoller, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.

Ensemble: Cast of “Smart People,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “Trav’lin’ ” at Seven Angels Theatre; cast of “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre; cast of “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; cast of “The 39 Steps” at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Debut performance: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Dylan Frederick, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Nick Sacks, “Next to Normal, TheaterWorks.

Solo Performance: Jodi Stevens, “I’ll Eat You Last,” Music Theater of Connecticut; Jon Peterson, “He Wrote Good Songs,” Seven Angels Theatre.

Featured actor in a play: Jameal Ali, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Andre De Shields, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Cleavant Derricks, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Steve Routman, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Paxton Whitehead, “What the Butler Saw,” Westport Country Playhouse

Featured actress in a play: Miriam Silverman, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Rachel Leslie, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Mia Dillon, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Christina Pumariega, “Napoli, Brooklyn,” Long Wharf Theatre

Featured actor in a musical: Mark Nelson, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theatre; Edward Watts, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; John Cardoza, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jonny Wexler, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Rhett Guter, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Michael Wartella, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House

Featured actress in a musical: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jodi Stevens, “Gypsy,” “Music Theater of Connecticut; Katie Stewart, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Kristine Zbornik, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kate Simone, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut.

Set design: Colin McGurk, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Michael Yeargan, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theater; Wilson Chin, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Adam Rigg, “The Invisible Hand,” “Westport Country Playhouse; Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage.

Costume design: Ilona Somogyi, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Marina Draghici, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theater; Fabio Toblini, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Gregory Gale, “Thorough Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Lisa Steier, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.

Lighting design: Matthew Richards, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; John Lasiter, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Matthew Richards, “Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Christopher Bell, “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Playhouse on Park, Hartford.

Sound design: Jane Shaw, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Fan Zhang, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Shane Rettig, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Karen Graybash, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Fitz Patton, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse.

2017 Nominations List

 

Outstanding Solo Performance

Jodi Stevens                I’ll Eat You Last                     MTC

Jon Peterson                He Wrote Good Songs           7 Angels

Outstanding Debut

Maya Kelcher (Natalie)           Next to Normal           TheaterWorks

Dylan Frederick                      Assassins                     Yale Rep

Nick Sacks                              Next to Normal           TheaterWorks

Outstanding Ensemble

Cast of…                                Smart People                           Long Wharf

Cast of…                                Trav’lin                                    7 Angels

Cast of…                                Meteor Shower                       Long Wharf

Cast of…                                Assassins                                 Yale

Cast of…                                The 39 Steps                           Ivoryton

Outstanding Projections

 Michael Commendatore          Assassins                                 Yale

Outstanding Sound

Jane Shaw                               Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Fan Zhang                               Seven Guitars                          Yale

Shane Retig                             Scenes From Court Life          Yale

Karin Graybash                       Piano Lesson                           Hartford Stage

Fitz Patton                              Invisible Hand                        Westport

Outstanding Costume Design

Ilona Somogyi                         Heartbreak House                   Hartford Stage

Marina Draghici                      Scenes from Court Life          Yale

Lisa Steier                               Rockin’ the Forest                  Playhouse on Park

Fabio Toblini                           Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Gregory Gale                          Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

Outstanding Lighting

Matthew Richards                  Invisible Hand                        Westport

Yi Zhao                                   Assassins                                 Yale

John Lasiter                             Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Matthew Richards                  Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Christopher Bell                      A Moon for the Misbegotten  Playhouse on Park

Outstanding Set Design

Colin McGurk                         Heartbreak House                   Hartford Stage
Michael Yeargan                     Most Beautiful Room…         Long Wharf

Wilson Chin                            Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Adam Rigg                             The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Darko Tresnjak                        The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

Outstanding Choreography

Denis Jones                             Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

Chris Bailey                            Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Doug Shankman                     West Side Story                      STONC

Patricia Wilcox                        Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Darlene Zoller                         Rockin’ the Forest                  Playhouse on Park

Outstanding Featured Actor – Musical

Mark Nelson (Carlo)               Most Beautiful Room….        Long Wharf

Edward Watts (Trevor)           Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

John Cardoza (Gabe)              Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Jonny Wexler (Action)            West Side Story                      STONC

Rhett Guter (Birdie)               Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Michael Wartella                     Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Outstanding Featured Actress – Musical

Maya Keleher (Natalie)           Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Jodi Stevens (Secretary/Mazeppa)      Gypsy                          MTC

Katie Stewart (Anita)             West Side Story                      STONC

Kristine Zbornik (Mother)      Bye, Bye Birdie                      Goodspeed

Kate Simone (Louise)             Gypsy                                      MTC

Outstanding Featured Actress – Play

Miriam Silverman (Brianne/Chaya)    Mary Jane                    Yale

Rachel Leslie (Vera)               Seven Guitars                          Yale

Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Ruby) Seven Guitars                  Yale

Mia Dillon                               Cloud 9                                   Hartford Stage

Christina Pumariega (Tina)     Napoli, Brooklyn                    Long Wharf

Outstanding Featured Actor – Play

Jameal Ali (Dar)                      The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Andre De Shields Headley)    Seven Guitars                          Yale

Cleavant Derricks                   Piano lesson                            Hartford Stage

Steve Routman (Coles)           Other People’s Money            Long Wharf

Paxton Whitehead (Dr. Rance)  What the Butler Saw           Westport

 Outstanding Director – Musical

Rob Ruggiero                          Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

David Edwards                       Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Melody Libonati                     West Side Story                      STONC

Jenn Thompson                       Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Kevin Connors                        Gypsy                                      MTC

Outstanding Director – Play

Darko Tresnjak                        The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

David Kennedy                      The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Marc Bruni                              Other People’s Money            Long Wharf

Tracy Brigden                         Midsummer                             TheaterWorks

Gordon Edelstein                    Meteor Shower                       Long Wharf

Outstanding Actor – Musical

Robert Sean Leonard (Arthur)  Camelot                                Westport

Riley Costello (Finch)             How to Succeed…                 CRT

David Harris (Dan)                 Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

David Pittsinger (Don Q)       Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Zach Schanne (Tony)              West Side Story                      STONC

Outstanding Actress – Musical

Ruby Rakos (Judy)                 Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Christiane Noll (Diana)           Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Julia Paladino (Maria)             West Side Story                      STONC

Karen Ziemba (Rose)              Gypsy                                      Sharon Playhouse

Talia Thiesfield (Aldonza)      Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Outstanding Actor – Play

Tom Pecinka (Betty/Edward) Cloud 9                                   Hartford Stage

Michael Doherty (Black Stache) Peter and the…                  CRT

Eric Bryant (prisoner) Invisible Hand                        Westport

Jordan Lage (Garfinkle)          Other People’s Money            Long Wharf

Scott McLean (Bob) Midsummer… TheaterWorks

Outstanding Actress – Play

Emily Donohe                         Mary Jane                                Yale

Semina DeLaurentis (Gracie)  George & Gracie                     7 Angels

Ashlie Atkinson (Imogen)      Imogen Says Nothing             Yale

Vanessa R. Butler (Solinas)    Queens for a Year                   Hartford Stage

Rebecca Hart (Helena)            Midsummer                             TheaterWorks

Outstanding Production – Musical

Assassins                                 Yale

Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

West Side Story                      STONC

Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Outstanding Production – Play

The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

Midsummer (a play with songs) TheaterWorks

Scenes From Court Life          Yale

The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Mary Jane                                Yale

Orton Farce Starts Slowly at Westport – Then WOW!

what the butler -wpt 3

Paxton Whitehead, Sarah Manton and Robert Stanton. Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 Joe Orton died too young. The iconoclastic British playwright was killed by his lover in 1964 when he was just 34 and had written only a handful of plays.  As Mark Lamos, artistic director of Westport Country Playhouse wrote in his program notes – he might have given theater goers a “legacy of ground-breaking comedic works that would have entertained generations of theatergoers.”

Yet we are still blessed with several masterpieces – Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Loot and the play currently at Westport through Sept. 10 – What the Butler Saw.

 It is a farce – but a farce probably unlike any you have ever seen before, unless you saw the terrific Westport production of Loot a few years ago.

Orton came out of the “angry young man” school of British playwrights and authors in the 1950s and ’60. While many of the playwrights wrote “kitchen sink” dramas that featured working class characters and were critical of the British class system, its post-Empire society, and its values and hypocrisy Orton turned to comedy.

He incorporated his criticisms of British values, traditions and society into plays that used the farce format – improbabilities, multiple doors, confused identities and double entendres.

What the Butler Saw is just such a play. The title draws on the titles of more traditional British farces because there is NO butler to see anything in this play.

what the butler -wpt 1

Chris Ghaffari and Julian Gamble. Photo by Carol Rosegg

It is set in the dispensary of a psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice who is interviewing a young woman, Geraldine Barclay, for a secretarial position. Yet the questions he asks seem inappropriate for the position; the young woman has an interesting history – her father abandoned her mother after a night of sex in a hotel linen closet. The woman who raised her has recently died due to a very unconventional accident.

Soon the mayhem commences. He convinces Geraldine to remove her clothes and lie down, but just as he is about to “examine” her, his wife makes an unanticipated entry.  He barely gets rid of her when Dr. Rance barges in; he is a psychiatrist from a government authority there to inspect the clinic.

But Dr. Rance seems more than a little unconventional. He quickly decides that Geraldine is insane and must be hospitalized. When the stage is empty we again meet Mrs. Prentice and the hotel bellboy, Nicholas Beckett. It seems that they have had a recent rambunctious encounter in the hotel’s line closet and he has the photos to prove it. He wants money.

That is the set up for the mayhem that follows. It is almost indescribably but let’s say that soon Dr. Prentice is accused of being insane, Geraldine keeps trying to get away, various people switch clothes and personas and Sergeant Match arrives to investigate the disappearance of Geraldine.

The conclusion draws references to both Oscar Wilde and Gilbert & Sullivan.

A show like this requires a cast with spectacular timing as well as an ability to make the characters seem like real people. It also requires a director who keeps the whole thing moving and can develop both the laughs and the feelings in it.

Luckily Westport has both.  Director John Tillinger has years of experience directing British works that require exquisite timing – at Westport and elsewhere he is considered the go-to director throughout the country for works by Orton and Alan Ayckbourn His credits go on and on as do his list of awards and award nominations.

what the butler -wpt 2

Patricia Kalember and Robert Stanton. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The cast is more than up to the demands of the play and the director. Again, many are veterans of this style of theater. Even those who don’t have the experience, Chris Ghaffai as Nicholas (he most recently was Romeo at Hartford Stage), perform like veterans.

Through her posture and voice, Sarah Manton immediately gives us a complete character as Geraldine and she continues to build on that first impression.  Robert Stanton as Dr. Prentice does a good job as a man who is not only losing control of the situation – and doesn’t really understand why – and someone trying to figure out a solution.

Chris Ghaffari is excellent as the blackmailing bellboy but Tillinger has incorporated a brief nude scene that seems unnecessary.

The other cast members – Patricia Kalember as Mrs. Prentice and Julian Gamble as Sergeant Match are equal to the others.

But if there is a standout, it has to be Paxton Whitehead, who has almost made a career out of playing somewhat dotty, bewildered Englishman. Here as Dr. Rance he is always confident no matter how misguided he is, always convinced of his infallibility and unflappable as everything goes crazy about him.

Praises must be given to the scenic design by James Noon – that gives an elegant touch to the clinic and provides the necessary multiple doors, the costume design by Laurie Churba, and the dialect coach Elizabeth Smith. Singling these three members of the production team, does not imply that the others – lighting design by John McKernon, sound design by Scott Killian or the movement/firearms choreographer Robert Westley did not also do great work.

What the Butler Saw provides a lot of laughs and a ridiculous situation; it is good fun.

It is at Westport Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport through Sept. 10. For tickets visit westportplayhouse.org.

what the butler -wpt 4

Chris Ghaffari and Robert Stanton. Photo by Carol Rosegg

‘Bedroom Farce’ at Westport – Great Fun, No Sex

Susannah is attacking Trevor while Malcolm tries to protect the vase. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Susannah is attacking Trevor while Malcolm tries to protect the vase. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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.

Nick is confined to bed with back pain but Jan leaving to go to a party. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Nick is confined to bed with back pain but Jan leaving to go to a party. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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.

Ernest and Delia are ending the anniversary celebration with some snacks in bed. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Ernest and Delia are ending the anniversary celebration with some snacks in bed. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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.

Trevor and Jan look guilty when Kate and Susannah walk in on them. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Trevor and Jan look guilty when Kate and Susannah walk in on them. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

%d bloggers like this: