By Marlene S. Gaylinn

In English playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s “Things We Do For Love,” currently at Westport Country Playhouse, there are no profound messages or philosophies to contemplate. Instead, we have a hilarious depiction of human nature and the phenomenon called “falling in love.”

What’s funny about Aycbourn’s well-written play is that we’re still trying to figure out why Cupid’s arrow often strikes at the most unlikely people. The fact that love has nothing to do with being reasonable or practical is also a mystery. Love comes in all forms and it does not necessarily have to last forever. Along the way, people may change and then there are hurt feelings. According to Ayckbourn: “Love can do a lot of unintended damage.” And so, we have many facets of love -- especially the all important “sexual desire” --  neatly woven into his play.

James Noone designed a three-level English home. We can easily see the main floor but the top and basement apartments are only partially visible. The owner of the house, Barbara (Geneva Carr), is cleaning up the top floor apartment. The couple that will be moving in is seeking temporary quarters until their house is refinished. Barbara, who knows Nikki (Sarah Manton) from her college days, is renting the upstairs as a favor to her long lost friend.

While Barbara tidies up, Gilbert (Michael Mastro) is repairing the upstairs radiator. He is endlessly chatting to gain his landlady’s attention -- however, it’s obvious that he is way below her social class. He is a middle-aged widower, works in the post office, and livesin the basement apartment. Gilbert likes to please and do people favors but something is not quite right with him. In private, he decorates his apartment walls with ladies underwear, wears a dress, and enjoys painting a nude figure of his landlady from imagination.

Barbara, a take-charge person, is gainfully employed as an office supervisor. She wears skirts and suits, and feels awkward in the outdated dress she dons for her tenants’ cocktail party. The woman states that she’s happy and prefers being single. There’s also a hint that she might be a lesbian when Nikki relates that at the all girls college they both attended, Barbara was admiringly referred to as “Spike” (think “Dike?”). Nikki also admits to adoring her friend during those days, so maybe she has lesbian tendencies too.

Nikki seems a bit younger and more girlishly giddy than Barbara. Before she met Hamish, the girl had a long relationship with an abusive man who finally left her. Nikki declares that she now knows the differences in men and her new partner Hamish, who is thoughtful and kind, is her true love. She is very happy that they may marry.

Hamish (Matthew Greer), Nikki’s intended, is the last to enter the scene and plays a pivotal role. He’s a handsome Scotsman who is divorced. Yet, he’s willing to marry again if that’s what his new love wishes. Hamish is very attentive to Nikki, despite her frequent headaches and monthly periods “… which sometimes last for 28 days.” He also tolerates her cute pretenses and being trained as his sweetheart’s “Good Bear” and “Bad Bear.”

Without giving too much away, Barbara has a poor, first impression of Hamish because he represents everything she dislikes in a man. To her, he is the typical, penny-pinching Scotsmen. To Hamish, who can’t figure her out, the feeling is mutual and the two immediately try to avoid each other. And so, I have described all the characters -- two men and two women and their initial relationship to each other.

Let’s just say that the occupants of this house represent a group of individuals who have different sides to their characters. We may not always act upon our instincts but each one of us has secret thoughts and desires. Therefore, Ayckbourn’s witty quips about human behavior and what takes place at Barbara’s house behind closed doors should be familiar to all.

John Tillinger expertly directed the four actors who held our interest during this long, two-act play. Matthew Greer managed to keep his wonderful, Scottish accent throughout. Despite his heavy beard, tenderness and intense emotions were eloquently expressed through voice and body language. Michael Mastro’s Gilbert, was amusing and yet, this unique character was sensitively rendered with considerable understanding. Geneva Carr and Sarah Manton exhibited believable personalities that changed according to the developing plot. Speaking of changes, there were numerous, quick, costume changes, and the designs by Laurie Kohn were well thought out.

I don’t know how the set was viewed from the balcony, but I understand that some folks in the rear orchestra sections missed the colorful array of ladies underwear hanging in the basement level. Unfortunately, when they came forward during intermission, the clothing was already removed by the technical crew.

Suggestion: View the complete set from all angles before the performance. Warning: A simulated sex scene is surprisingly explicit and for adults only.

Plays to September 6. Tickets: 203 227 4177
This review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre” Sept/2014

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