|Cecilia Hart, Sarah Manton, and Paxton Whitehead. Photo by Carol Rosegg|
By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by John Tillinger
Westport Country Playhouse
Through Sept. 13
What's it all About?
Four couples in three bedrooms over the course of one night and the next morning. The couples sort of represent different phases of marriage.
Malcolm (Scott Drummond) and Kate (Claire Karpen) are young, still active sexually and are planning a housewarming at their new home. They have invited two couples: the hopelessly mismatched Susannah (Sarah Manton) and Trevor (Carson Elrod) whose marriage is on the rocks and Trevor's ex Jan (Nicole Lawrence) and her husband Nick (Matthew Greer), who can't come because of a pinched nerve that has laid him up in bed, where he gets little comfort from his wife who isn't good at caretaking and decides to go to the party any way. Then there are Delia (Cecilia Hart) and Ernest (Paxton Whitehead), Trevor's parents, who are celebrating another anniversary in their long marriage. The only ones whose bedroom we don't visit is Trevor and Susannah's -- they visit all the others as the awkward events of the disastrous housewarming unfold.
What are the Highlights?
Paxton Whitehead and Cecilia Hart are a delight as the older couple. They have wonderful rapport and expertly give us a portrait of the compatibility that sets in after many years of successful marriage. They share routines, the same opinions about their irresponsible son and his woefully insecure wife and preferred his former girlfriend, Jan. Paxton is a master of facial expressions. Hart is charming in her discomfort at having to toss Ernest out of the bed to comfort Susannah. Watching these two fine actors work is worth the price of admission. And Kudos to director John Tillinger for letting them go with the characters.
Performances are strong across the board. Elrod gives the play a much needed shot of humor with his quirky Trevor and Lawrence nails the bored woman trying to find some meaning and fun in her life. One scene where a wimpy, whining Nick needs help brushing crumbs out of the bed had me laughing out loud -- and anyone who ever has been a reluctant caregiver will join in thanks to Lawrence's encompassing portrayal.
What are the Lowlights?
The plot is a bit contrived and the characters aren't developed much beyond some questionable framing by the playwright. Malcolm, for instance, enjoys putting odd things in the bed, like an eggbeater, to surprise his wife, who inexplicably thinks it funny..... It struck me as something written in to the script to try to define who is, but doesn't really. This isn't really a farce, in the sense of banging doors and mistaken identities and the humor doesn't abound. One bit, where Nick falls out of bed and can't get up isn't funny in itself, but is supposed to be. He ends up covered in the bedding and lying in a lump on the floor for a really long time but without any humor involved. If he is reacting over there, we can't see it. (The three bedrooms all are visible throughout on Marjorie Bradley Kellogg's set).
With two acts, the plot drags on. It would play better at 90 minutes with no intermission.
Tillinger has directed Ayckbourn's Things We Do for Love, How the Other Half Loves, Time of My Life and Relatively Speaking at the Playhouse.
Additional design team: Laura Churba Kohn, costume design; John Demous, lighting design; Scott Killian, sound design.
Performances are Tuesday at 7, Wednesday at 2 and 8, Thursday and Friday at 8, Saturday at 3 and 8 and Sunday at 3 pm through Sept. 13 at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport.