“How the Other Half Loves” Will Tickle Your Brain with its Witty and Funny Twists and Turns.

By Roz Friedman

I am often asked how the Westport Country Playhouse is doing. Well, this beautiful theater has presented three delicious productions in a row: the imaginative “Around the World in Eighty Days;” Gurney’s seaside drama, “Children;” and the young, self-searching musical, “tick, tick…..BOOM!”

But please take my word for it. Get yourself to their latest souffle, Alan Ayckbourn’s, How the Other Half Loves. It will tickle your brain with its witty and funny twists and turns. This most prolific English playwright—he’s written over 70 plays---knows a great deal about men and women, and what makes them tick. He also stretches both the time constraints of ordinary hours, minutes and seconds, and the set restrictions inherent in a play. Directed in high definition by John Tillinger, three couples play cat and mouse on one very detailed set in ways you cannot imagine. James Noone’s design, lit by Stephen Strawbridge, must incorporate in the same space, a traditional, elegant home for the Fosters and a house for the Philips, who have a baby; he must also section off a sofa, a dining table, telephones, and exit and entrances, all of which pertain to each family who inhabit the same space all at the same time; and timing is everything here. . 

The challenges for the actors, costumed well by Laurie Churba Kohn, are extraordinary and they meet them head-on with finesse, making it all clear to the audience, where and who they are. Paxton Whitehead is as always marvelous—this time as the picky, absent-minded Frank Foster, who may misplace his toothbrush, but never forgets to ask his beautiful wife, Fiona, where she was on Wednesday night. Cecelia Hart is all grace, elegance and twinkling as Fiona, who really causes all the trouble that ensues among the couples. Paxton and Hart have paired together so well before, they should consider doing a series like “As Time Goes By.” Blond Geneva Carr and the very-muscled Darren Pettie are Teresa and Bob Phillips. Teresa, frustrated by her husband’s gallivanting, is consumed by newspaper ads, and her new baby, the never-seen, Benjamin. Bob, a playboy, works for Frank and is having an affair with Fiona. There is a third couple: the Featherstones, nail-biting, anti-social Mary, and controlling William, interestingly portrayed by Karen Walsh and Carson Elrod, a fascinating character actor.               

They all intersect at a dinner party--- well two dinner parties--- held at the same time. With plates of food thrown with alacrity, plumbing problems that abound, and various accusations of infidelity filling the airwaves, it is a wonder that there is a happy ending. But as Frank says about marriage: When my wife and I are fighting, I always think it is better than nothing. That line got the biggest laugh of the night. 

Kudos to B. H. Barry for his Fight Direction.     

“How the Other Half Loves” will play at the WCP through August 15, 2009. This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO.

 

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