Things We Do For Love
By Roz Friedman
Since 1959, the English playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn has written 78 full length plays of which I have seen about a dozen. And I can honestly say I have loved and been fascinated by them all, except the one now playing at the Westport Country Playhouse. Things We Do for Love was written in 1997. Although it does possess a potentially interesting three level set design, executed on this stage by James Noone and lit by Paul Miller, the inspection of conflicting personalities and the love that plays out among them, is far too long; there are moments of levity, but repetition turns into the tedium of over 2 1/2hrs with one intermission.
I am surprised by John Tillinger; he began directing brilliantly at Long Wharf when I was starting my career as a theater critic (over 30 years ago). He has done great work since then, and at WCP his take on Ayckbourn's Time of My Life (My favorite-First saw it in London), Relatively Speaking, and How the Other Half Lives, was perfection. Here, the show spins out of control.
Things We Do for Love begins on the top floor flat, where we can only see the feet of Barbara, lovely blond Geneva Carr, as she is furiously cleaning up, and hear the constant chatter of Gilbert, trying to fix the heat and plumbing. Michael Mastro takes on this challenging role of handyman, postman, painter, and cross dresser, who lives in the basement flat. It seems Barbara's old school friend, Nikki, played by Sarah Manton, and her new boyfriend, Scotsman Hamish, depicted by the charming Matthew Greer, are coming to rent the top floor flat until their new home is renovated. Previously, Nikki has endured an abusive relationship, and is sure she is in love with Hamish, who has left his wife of ten years and children for her
Nikki admits that she and other girls at school had a fierce crush on Barbara, so tough they gave her the nickname, “Spike.” Barbara, a working woman, has never married and admits to Nikki she has had no romance in her life and is not interested in it. There is some hint of a liaison with her boss, but that is unclear. She takes an instant dislike of Hamish and his vegetarianism and he of her. However, Hamish and Barbara have an explosive coupling in which they tear off their clothes and leap into bed -- so much so that in the publicity we are told that this is for Mature Audiences only -- 16 years and up. Ah the fickle finger of fate! One minute, Hamish is expressing his love for Nikki, his “porcelain princess;” the next for Barbara, who realizes that their affair is ruining Nikki and Gilbert's lives but cannot stop.
Geneva Carr is a fine actress but much too prettily feminine to play the part of Barbara, who Hamish initially suspects is a lesbian. From where I was seated, Row K on the aisle, the lowest flat could not be seen. I also had trouble hearing the dialogue from down below! The actors in Things We Do for Love are in good shape, and from running up and down a steep 15 step stairway, they will be even more fit by September 7 when the show closes.
On the subject of nudity: In Song at Twilight, co-presented by Hartford Stage and WCP, Director Mark Lamos chose to insert in several scenes two nude men high above the set; something Noel Coward would never have done! In Nora, which I did not see, there is, according to critic Irene Backalenick, “gratuitous frontal nudity,” which was also reported to me by many audience members, who wrote notes and called our station. Ibsen would have been outraged. This trend is not a good one. If a play is well-written, let it stand on its own. Fully clothed!!
(This review originally aired on WNFR Fine Arts radio.)