The Bedroom as Battleground
By Geary Danihy
Anyone familiar with theater knows that staging a farce normally requires a lot of doors, which are frequently slammed as characters rush about chasing each other. In the case of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Bedroom Farce,” which recently opened at the Westport Country Playhouse under the capable direction of John Tillinger, there are the requisite doors, though they are seldom slammed. They do, however, provide entrance into three bedrooms where, obviously, the beds dominate, and it is these beds and the people who sleep in them, or rather, attempt to sleep in them, that Ayckbourn has chosen to focus on in his slowly developing though ultimately quite humorous analysis of what we do when the shades are drawn. It’s not what you think (but you probably already know that).
Stage right offers us the bedroom of Delia (Cecilia Hart) and Ernest (the ever reliable Paxton Whitehead), a couple of a certain age who worry about a damp spot in the guest room ceiling and believe it’s a treat to have sardines and toast in bed. This couple, in their younger years, somehow managed to bring forth a son named Trevor (Carson Elrod), a borderline sociopath who is currently married to the somewhat fragile, flighty Susannah (Sarah Manton).
Stage Center we have the bedroom of Kate (Claire Karpen) and Malcolm (Scott Desmond), a young couple who have decided to throw a house warming party for themselves to which, reluctantly, Trevor and Susannah have been invited, for the couple apparently are to parties what Typhoid Mary was to New York.
Finally, stage left offers us the bedroom of Nick (Matthew Greer) and Jan (Nicole Lowrance), who have also been invited to the party but, alas, Nick can’t attend – he’s bedridden with a bad back (Ayckbourn seems to subscribe to the idea that men, when confronted with illness or pain, turn into sniveling babies). Jan, however, is determined to attend the party, knowing that her former lover, Trevor, will be there with his psychotic wife.
Thus the stage, handsomely decorated by scenic designer Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, is set for a mix and match of emotions all fueled by Trevor and Susannah’s rather tempestuous marriage. The two are obliviously intrusive -- they invade the three bedrooms like locust or cockroaches, creating havoc wherever they appear.
However, the havoc takes a bit of time to develop, so the first act, although punctuated by some witty dialogue, arch commentary on the more mundane aspects of married bliss, and a great husband-wife duke-out performed by Manton and Elrod, seems to be one long set-up for the second act. As the action, such as it is, jumps from bedroom to bedroom, the transitions accentuated by John Demous’s lighting design, we are treated to extended character development and a slow build -- you just know all hell is going to break loose, you’d just like it to happen a bit sooner.
Pent up expectation is fulfilled in the delightful second act, which consists of a series of bedroom hopping scenes complete with confusing phone calls (here Whitehead is in his glory), collapsing furniture, and enough slapstick to satisfy those who remember “Room Service” and “Hellzapoppin.”
It is also in the second act that the cast’s comic skills come to the fore: Hart and Manton have a wonderfully awkward conversation about sex as Whitehead attempts to deal with having been evicted from his bed; Greer finally gets to do more than moan as he attempts to deal with the invasion of his character’s bedroom; and Elrod reveals his inner Stan Laurel.
Is the controlled insanity of the second act worth the wait? Absolutely. It’s comic catharsis.
“Bedroom Farce” runs through September 13. For tickets or more information call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org.