Sparkling Production of Ayckbourn Comedy at Westport
By Karen Isaacs
Two men, two women. One is a couple. The women know each other. They are school friends from long ago. One woman( Nikki) is recovering from a disastrous and abusive marriage, one (Barbara) is determinedly single.
Too often within the first five or ten minutes, you have figured out what will happen. It is all too predictable.
But at intermission of Westport Country Playhouse's production of Things We Do for Love, I was still puzzled about the outcome.
Now I will admit a bias to the plays of Alan Ayckbourn. I have seen probably only a dozen or so of the more than 75 plays he has written, but I've enjoyed the all. This prolific British playwright, theater director and artistic director of his own theater, is sometimes called the British Neil Simon. But really the two comedy writers are SO different that it does a disservice to each of them. Ayckbourn does not sprinkle his plays with gags -- the laughs come from the situations and not the one-liners.
So here's the details of the set up. Barbara is career woman, who is probably in love with her married boss. She has converted her family London home into three flats. She lives on the main floor and Gilbert, a postman who is a widower lives in the basement flat. He talks a lot and does handyman chores for Barbara. She rents the upstairs flat and when the play opens a tenant has just left. The new tenant -- for a brief stay while their house is readied -- is a slightly younger old school chum and her fiance. Nikki is gloriously happy after recovering from an abusive marriage. She loves Hamish.
What will happen? Some of this is predictable. Hamish and Barbara take an instant dislike to each other. Barbara is not really polite to him -- she has a dislike of Scots which Hamish is. Gilbert natters on and on about the heating system, and Nikki confesses to Barbara that she and all her classmates had crushes on Barbara and called her "Spike."
I won't reveal the twists and turns of the plot, but I will tell you I did not anticipate many of them.
Director John Tillinger has brought together an outstanding production team as well as a cast that understands Ayckbourm's style.
Michael Mastro as Gilbert, the postman, almost steals the show with his performance as the needy, talkative and lonely man. He is so obviously the "odd man out" -- not fitting with the upwardly mobile threesome.
Geneva Carr -- who has performed in several Ayckbourn productions at Westport -- is terrific as the bristly and efficient Barbara. Yet she lets us see her slowly unravel, somewhat of a characteristic of Ayckbourn plays which often have a nervous breakdown or two lurking in the background.
The engaged couple is equal to the other two. Sarah Manton is Nikki -- at times needy, at times wishy-washy and at other times, quite mad. Matthew Greer manages an accent that gives a hint of Scotland while still being totally understandable. During my one trip to Scotland, I found the accents the most difficult to understand. Greer is also confident and bristly as well; you can see the effort he is making to be polite to Barbara.
Special praise must be given to scenic designed James Noone who has created three flats. Admittedly Gilbert's apartment is difficult to see, but I'm not sure we really need to see it. The dialogue gives us such a clear understanding of it that it might be anti-climatic to actually see it all.
Tillinger has kept this long play moving at a rapid pace. On opening night in both acts the audience applauded a blackout presuming that it was a finale; in neither case was it. It does seem that the play could use some trimming.
This is good adult fare and older teens might enjoy it; there is some brief (non-frontal) nudity but the language is acceptable.
Things We Do for Love is good adult fare. It is at Westport Country Playhouse through Sept. 7.
For tickets call 203-227-4177 or www.westportcountryplayhouse.org.
(Ran on WNHU 88.7 FM and www.wnhu.net, June 16-19 2008).