"Things We Do For Love" -- Westport Country Playhouse
By Irene Backalenick.
British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, writing down through the years, has amassed a staggering collection of clever, hilarious pieces -- unexpected gimmickry with time, place, and character interaction puts the distinctive Ayckbourn mark on every work. But, with 78 full-length plays to his credit, not every play hits the high mark of such charmers as “The Norman Conquests” and “Absurd Person Singular” -- certainly not the 1997 comedy, “Things We Do for Love,” now at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Granted that “Things We Do for Love” moves at a lively pace under the adroit direction of John Tillinger. And granted that Tillinger is blessed with a superb cast of four: Geneva Carr, Matthew Greer, Sarah Manton, and Michael Mastro are a joy to behold as they jump through the rings. Ayckbourn has given Tillinger and company four sharply-etched characters with which to work. Nevertheless, “Things” is slow getting off the ground, finds its voice midway, and dribbles away at the close.
What’s it all about -- this “Things We Do for Love”? A three-story building (presumably in London) houses three separate living quarters. Barbara (Carr) owns the house and lives on the main floor. She has rented the basement flat to Gilbert (Mastro) and the top floor to her old schoolmate Nikki (Manton). Nikki is about to move in with her lover Hamish (Greer). Barbara is a no-nonsense career woman, and Gilbert an oafish, well-meaning middle-ager. Nikki is a ditzy child-woman, unable to cope on her own. Her lover Hamish is sexy, polite and quite possibly a philanderer. It is a dizzy tale of four very different types who attempt to live at close quarters.
Of course, all kinds of zaniness and mini-disasters unfold. At times “Things” is pure farce. But behind these antics is Ayckbourn’s deeper message. How do humans combine their need for privacy with their need for contact? And can they achieve a delicate workable balance?
Another difficulty for the production is the set itself. Set designer James Noone (no doubt with Tillinger’s blessing) has allowed the three-layer set to move beyond the stage itself...the upper apartment extends up into the flies, while the basement apartment hides in the orchestra pit. It’s a clever concept, but makes for difficult viewing, no matter where the theatergoers sit. Moreover, for the unfortunate viewers seated in the mezzanine, there is the added problem of understanding the two women actors.
In all, “Things You Do for Love” has its hilarious moments when Ayckbourn -- and Tillinger’s company -- shine through. But a revival of “The Norman Conquests” would have been far more satisfying.