Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Theater Review: Things We Do for Love -- Westport

Sarah Manton, Geneva Carr, and Matthew Greer in Alan Ayckbourn’s “Things We Do for Love,” directed by John Tillinger, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through September 7.  (203) 227-4177.  www.westportplayhouse.org      Photo by Carol Rosegg
Things We Do for Love
By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by John Tilliinger
Westport Country Playhouse

What's it All About?
Best school chums Barbara (Geneva Carr) and Nikki (Sarah Manton) are reunited after years apart when Nikki and her yummy new fiance, Hamish (Matthew Greer) rent a room in Barbara's house while work is completed on their new home. Nikki, just out of an abusive relationship, can hardly believe that she has landed Hamish who calls her his "porcelain princess."

She so wants Babs to like him. Prickly, opinionated Barbara who earned the nickname of "Spike" at the all-girls school where Nikki and her classmates all had crushes on the formidable woman, isn't taken with Hamish, however, at least at first. When personality sparks lead to sexual tension, however, Hamish and Barbara begin an affair. They have to come to grips with being the kind of people who would do such a thing. They aren't the only ones who get hurt. Also needing a self-evaluation is tenant Gilbert (Michael Mastro) who has been keeping evidence of his  odd devotion to Barbara hidden in his downstairs flat.

What Are the Highlights?
Nice performances from all the players, directed by John Tillinger, who previously has directed Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves and Relatively Speaking at Westport Country Playhouse (next season he will helm Bedroom Farce.) Carr is entertaining as the judgmental, uptight, but suddenly out-of-control Barbara (she also starred in Relatively Speaking as well as two other Ayckbourns at WCP . Manton, who showed her comedy prowess on Broadway in One Man, Two Guvnors, shines again as the innocent, if odd, Nikki.

"I'm pathetic," Nikki says. "No wonder why people punch me."

Broadway vet Mastro brings humor to a somewhat underdeveloped character and Greer is just right in his offense at being seen at the end of Barbara's nose.

What Are the Lowlights?
-- James Noone designs a frustrating three-level set. At stage level, Barbara's flat is nicely appointed with a long staircase stage right leading to the other flats. Nikki and Hamish's place is shown only in abbreviated shadow box form, allowing us to see action from about the waist down. Gilbert's basement flat, set in the orchestra pit area, was totally unviewable from the balcony level. Every time action centered there, the balcony leaned forward en masse to try to see what was happening. I suspect the view isn't much better from rear parts of the orchestra level.

-- Some of the dialogue is very difficult to hear (sound design by Scott Killian, who also designs original music -- the tune "The Things We Do for Love" during scene changes.) People near me at intermission were complaining that they couldn't hear and during the show, often were supplying missed lines for each other.

--I am not crazy about this story. There are some funny lines and moments to be sure, but two people physically and emotionally abusing each other doesn't equate to love for me. Perhaps a better title would be "Things We Do for Lust, Loneliness, Longing, or Low Self Esteem," but not "love."

-- The first act, at 90 mintes, is very long. A total run time of almost three hours with an intermission is way too long for what is supposed to  be a fast-moving comedy. (That lengthy first act results in an full theater exodus for the rest rooms with the longest lines for the men's room I have ever seen.)

More Information:
Things We Do for Love plays through Sept. 7 at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport.  Performance are Tuesday at 8 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets and info: 203-227-4177, 1-888-927-7529; www.westportplayhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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