Nael Nacer, Mahira Kakkar, and Karl Miller in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Bedroom Farce, directed by Maria Aitken.
Nael Nacer, Mahira Kakkar, and Karl Miller in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Bedroom Farce, directed by Maria Aitken.
(© T. Charles Erickson)

Near the start of Bedroom Farce, the long-married Delia declares, "You can tell a great deal from peoples' bedrooms," an unwitting clue to the theme of Alan Ayckbourn's comedy of manners. Now unfolding in hilarious fits and starts at the Huntington Theatre Company, the play is set in a trio of side-by-side bedrooms to reveal the characters' lives behind closed doors.

The relationships onstage twist like a cat's cradle between the older, more sedate Ernest (Malcolm Ingham), his wife, Delia (Patricia Hodges), the romping Malcolm (Richard Hollis), and Kate (Emma Kaye), and the self-involved Nick (Nael Nacer), who is married to the more pragmatic Jan (Mahira Kakkar). A fourth pair, the battling Trevor (Karl Miller) and Susannah (Katie Paxton), spend a long Saturday night's journey into day, traveling back and forth between each of the homes.

The story is a simple one even though the entanglements are not. While Ernest and Delia are preparing to dine out for an annual celebration, Malcolm and Kate are dressing for the large party they are giving that same night. Unhappily, Nick is stuck in bed with a pulled muscle in his back that renders him helpless, but Jan determines to attend the party, if only for "ten minutes, I promise," she says. Ernest and Delia are Trevor's parents, the others are friends. Trevor and Jan once had an affair that ended with some lingering regrets. The action veers between the three bedrooms, designed in dueling decors by Alexander Dodge with lighting by Matthew Richards, both of which help to pin-point the quickly flowing action.

Trevor and Susannah arrive separately at the party, but their fight escalates into a brawl, ending the festivities. They spend Act 2 seeking sanctuary and sympathy from one house to another as the hour grows late and the friendships deteriorate. The play's ending is no surprise but brings the two-hour-long gag to a seemingly satisfactory close.

Under the direction of Maria Aitken, who portrayed Susannah in the play's 1977 staging in London, no double take is omitted, no pratfall ignored — many of them coming straight from the Charlie Chaplin playbook. Nacer's agonized journey off the bed (where he lies suffering to retrieve a fallen book) and Hodges' concentration on gesture (while she applies her makeup as if she were a surgeon) are only two of the delicious set pieces of the show.

Aitken has cast a splendid ensemble of actors, sporting broad English accents and taking on real physical challenges, like a bop on the head with a table lamp, a hide-and-seek game, and the accidental spilling of a cup of water, with direst outcome. As if to mirror the build of catastrophes, designer Alexander Dodge's set reflects the mayhem, to great comic effect.

Ingram, delightful as a clueless conservative, and the more perceptive Hodges endow their characters with Cheshire Cat smiles of satisfaction. Nacer wails in self-pity, expecting the increasingly exasperated Kakkar to put up with him. A know-it-all Hollis and conforming Kaye conduct their marriage with a high degree of adolescent flirting, until they are forced to admit the cracks. Miller as the self-anointed destroyer and Paxton as a baby doll who expects her husband to sooth her insecurities, have the best of the melees, reveling in the attention.

To be sure, the play is a bit of a trifle, with the exception of Ayckbourn's knack of writing dialogue that sounds like overheard conversations. Aitken's precise sense of timing and the actors' talents as stand-up comedians leave the audience gasping for air between laughs, which is quite a gift in these times.