Lighthearted Comedy at Westport Country Playhouse
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
What a joy it is to attend “How the Other Half Loves,” a unique comedy regarding the trials of love, marriage, infidelity, and “the battle of the sexes” playing at the Westport Country Playhouse. While these familiar themes are timeless and date back to ancient Greek theatre, in British playwright Alan Ayckbourne’s hands, this a refreshingly new experience that you would be foolish to miss.
Without giving too much away, it is the method by which the playwright portrays the lives of three couples, simultaneously, that is intriguing. Aycbourne is wondrously able to both bend and blend the rules of conventional time and space. Like Einstein’s theories, abstract ideas are difficult to present. Yet here, certain concepts that we normally take for granted are being suspended while the audience, like amused gods contemplate “…what fools these mortals be.”
Have you ever considered, while going about your daily activities, that at that very same moment, someone else is having the exact experience somewhere else? By reasoning, you accept the fact that other people are also picking up the phone, making tea, thinking the same thoughts, having the same feelings etc., yet it’s impossible to witness anyone else’s life but your own at exactly the same time – except in live theatre.
As for structure, one can compare the play to a Bach fugue. You have a main theme that develops into several melodies, which in turn harmonize and overlap. The complexity builds until everything comes together and ends with perfect timing, like a mathematical formula.
In “How the Other Half Loves,” to blend its unusual elements and give equal attention to all of the characters is quite an art. James Noone, the set designer, plays an important part as he carefully follows the playwright’s intent. The play’s actions take place on one set that must combine two separate households. Two couples that at the same moment are living in different apartments share one main living area. Separate entrances, the suggestion of several rooms off stage for each apartment, plus strategically placed furnishings in both traditional and contemporary styles, define the boundaries of an older and younger couple. In the foreground both couples use a single sofa – separately and at the same time. The division of sofa space is split by the use of colored cushions.
When a third couple enters the picture and interacts with each couple in-between the scenery, things really get crazy. The timing has to be absolutely perfect to pull it all off, and it certainly is. Can you imagine this third couple attending separate dinners with each of the aforementioned couples, on two different days, and witnessing both events simultaneously? One has to be a genius to even think of producing such an amusing event.
All of the actors are absolutely outstanding. Paxton Whitehead and Cecilia Hart play the supposedly, more reserved older couple. Darren Pettie and Geneva Carr are the bickering younger couple. Carson Elrod and Karen Walsh are the third couple that naively enters the scene and get themselves entangled with infidelities, misunderstandings and cover-ups.
Reputable director, John Tillinger combined with an excellent ensemble of seasoned actors (many of whom have previous played in Ackbourn’s plays at the Playhouse) makes this one of the best productions of this season.
“How the Other Half Loves,” continues until August 15. Box Office: 203-227-4177
Marlene S. Gaylinn is a member of Connecticut Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org