The New York Times
Review: In Bedroom Farce, Love and Other Jokes
By DAVID DeWITT
September 3, 2015
Once you’ve heard Freddie Mercury’s voice belting out Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” a few times in the Westport Country Playhouse. you’ll have caught the splendid sense of glee that the theater is selling with its production of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Bedroom Farce.”
Love — or couplehood, more to the point in this early Ayckbourn comedy — is indeed a crazy, quirky thing, and this production’s display of it has believably effusive charms sure to infect a willing audience with giggles, guffaws and the occasional insight that, yes, that’s what it’s like.
The director, John Tillinger, has a feel for the British and for Mr. Ayckbourn (often called the “Molière of the middle classes” ), having staged at least four of his other works at Westport. Five of the eight actors in “Bedroom Farce” have worked with Mr. Tillinger in at least one of those productions. The company seems to share a conviction that Mr. Ayckbourn’s script is as lively as it was when first presented on Broadway in 1979, after a 1975 English premiere that, the playwright said. came less than a month after he began writing the dialogue. A comedy of manners, “Bedroom Farce” (not “Sex Farce,” you’ll note) is less about slamming doors and more about observing relationships. Mr. Tillinger and his cast pretty much nail it.
The stage offers us three bedrooms. At right are the stylish appointments of Jan and Nick (Nicole Lowrance and Matthew Greer); center, with peeling wallpaper, is the playroom of Malcolm and Kate (Scott Drummond and Claire Karpen); at left is the traditionally designed retreat for Delia and Ernest (Cecilia Hart and Paxton Whitehead). Another couple — Susannah (Sarah Manton) and Delia and Ernest’s son, Trevor (Carson Elrod) — is a kettle of odd, and their contretemps flows from home to home over a night.
Each of these rooms houses the intimacies of its owners.
Delia and Ernest’s is satisfyingly well-ordered, a haven for rituals and occasional flights of fancy; Delia, offered a late-night snack of sardines, says: “Let’s be really, really wicked. Let’s eat them in bed.”
Ernest (Paxton Whitehead) and Delia (Cecilia Hart).
Malcolm and Kate’s place is messy, just right for a young, confident couple that enjoys a good frolic with shaving cream, hidden shoes and kitchen utensils.
Jan and Nick’s bed, attractive as it is, can accommodate their verbal and physical wrestling, as each has ways of getting the upper hand.
These sorts of idiosyncratic bonds reveal how couples really operate behind closed doors.
The funny Mr. Elrod has a loose and unusual vibe as Trevor, the self-absorbed, angst-ridden boy-man who causes most of the play’s fuss when he fights with his wife and flirts with his ex at a party. Ms. Manton is all contradictory dottiness as Susannah; I loved when the slyly violent hunger shined from her typically fretful eyes. Still, their muted attempts to work out their troubles are a bit of a drag on Act II, perhaps because of their choices, or because of how the play evolves, or because the first act has been such well-paced fun. Even a lighting cue earns a laugh. (John Demous is the lighting designer.)
The committed Mr. Drummond also earns laughs as Malcolm — though the part, pitched in high anger for much of the show, pushes him to a style of farce less natural than the rest of the cast’s. Mr. Greer, whose Scottish Nick is bedridden with a wrenched back most of the play, draws similar tough duty, but amid the whining he convincingly finds the good sense and humor that give the character range.
Wholly outstanding are Ms. Hart’s chirpily assured Delia (who has some of the show’s best lines) and the irreplaceable Mr. Whitehead’s stentorian, befuddled Ernest. Also strong are Ms. Lowrance and Ms. Karpen, with easy fluidity and lived-in depths percolating behind their characters’ exteriors. The costumes by Laurie Churba deserve special honor, particularly Trevor’s New Wave look (the early ’80s Bono called; he wants his hair back).
This production is not set then, nor in the mid-70s of its creation; there are contemporary set dressings (by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg) and varied fashions of our times, including the displays of one tattoo and a couple of chiseled bodies. The update mostly works, though when it doesn’t — some lines and business don’t fit in our cellphone age — it is a distraction.
But just a slight one. This 2015 “Bedroom Farce” rocks as confidently as Queen.
“Bedroom Farce” continues through Sept. 13 at the Westport Country Playhouse, 625 Powers Court. Information: westportplayhouse.org. 203-227-4177.