How the Other Half Loves
The Westport Country Playhouse serves up a perfect production of Sir Alan Ayckbourn's bittersweet yet screamingly funny 1970 comedy about middle-class marriage.
The playwright is known for his ingenious comic set-ups, and this one's another dilly, as Ayckbourn follows two couples at the same time but not always together. Instead, each husband and wife romp around in their own living room -- which gives set designer James Noone the chance to alternate wall panels and parts of sofas to suggest the disparate homes. The neo-Greek one with its duel columns and pediment over the living room door is occupied by Frank Foster (Paxton Whitehead) and spouse Fiona (Cecilia Hart), while the space with the unprepossessingly modern furnishings and a crib meant for a never-seen toddler belongs to Bob Phillips (Darren Pettie) and significant other Teresa (Geneva Carr).
The catalytic Ayckbourn complication this time is that Bob and Fiona are having an affair, and their attempts to cover up the dalliance implicates -- and almost destroys -- a third couple, the entirely unaware William Featherstone (Carson Elrod) and his "lesser" half Mary (Karen Walsh). Because the Featherstones are mentioned separately by both Bob and Fiona in their alibis, the unsuspecting twosome end up at dinner parties that Ayckbourn contrives to occur simultaneously for the audience, although they're meant to unfold on successive nights.
In this screamingly funny work, Ayckbourn was already establishing the jaundiced view of middle-class marriage that he's presented in giddy variations ever since, including the recently-on-Broadway The Norman Conquests. In his conviction that marriage is anything but a sacred institution, Ayckbourn needn't take a back seat to anyone from Shakespeare's depiction of the homicidal Macbeths to Edward Albee's lacerating George and Martha. Better still, he has the knack of deriving non-stop laughs from their predicaments and personal foibles, and he writes parts for actors that ensure those laughs.