Larry Keith and Cynthia Harris in Bedroom Farce
(© Stephen Kunken)
Larry Keith and Cynthia Harris in Bedroom Farce
(© Stephen Kunken)
After writing most of his 72 plays about marriage, it's become shiningly clear how Alan Ayckbourn regards the controversial institution. While Ayckbourn never sees the married state as blissfully easy, he also never regards it as irreversibly futile. What does look easy, however, is the first-rate production that The Actors Company Theatre is giving the playwright's adroitly crafted 1975 work, Bedroom Farce, now at the Beckett Theatre.

The four married couples depicted in the three bedrooms that Robin Vest has cleverly juxtaposed on the stage may be plunged into individual and suddenly overlapping problems. But while they are, director Jenn Thompson and her acting octet are having a high old time slapping those conflicts into stinging, ringing life.

The thing to keep in mind about Ayckbourn's plays is that they're billed as comedies, but they are comedies very much in the sense that Anton Chekhov called his works comedies. In the midst of the play's humor, Ayckbourn pointedly acknowledges his characters' psychological suffering as well as innumerable other nagging human foibles

The set-up is that long-time marrieds Delia (Cynthia Harris) and Ernest (Larry Keith) are dressing for an anniversary dinner, as son Trevor (Mark Alhadeff) and wife Susannah (Eve Bianco) are about to inflict their intramural strife on a house-warming party thrown by their usually tolerant friends Malcolm (Sean Dougherty) and Kate (Ashley West). Also expected among the latter event's 50 guests is Trevor's former main squeeze and still sympathetic ally, Jan (Margaret Nichols). Not expected is Jan's hubby Nick (Scott Shafer), who's confined to bed with an out-of-whack back and a mounting grudge against Trevor.

Unable to keep their misunderstandings to themselves through the wee hours, Trevor and Susannah singly or in tandem disturb the relative peace the others enjoy. Which is not to say the others are totally serene. For example, Malcolm is riled when Kate innocently admits there are times during sex when her mind wanders to other things. Significantly, Delia and Ernest are the least imperiled. Their biggest wrinkle is the fishy smell pervading their bedroom after they've had a late night snack. The implication here is that the longer a couple remains together, the fewer the besetting contretemps.

As for the verisimilitude and humor the entire cast brings to the variety of Ayckburn's comic situations, every one of the actors is on target. Alhadeff gets the required hyper-sincerity, Bianco the bottomless lack of esteem, Dougherty the frustrated good-guyism, Harris the weary wisdom, Keith the right stolidity, Nichols the loving brittleness, Schafer the crankiness, and West the eternal hope. For the combined sheen, added shout-outs to casting director Stephanie Klapper, who couldn't have organized a finer troupe, and dialect coach Amelia White, who's gotten the English accents up to snuff.