How The Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by Sky Vogel.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"That's enough, Mary"
After a brief, three-month run on Broadway, with a cast of bright and capable farceurs and actors, Alan Ayckbourn's comedy of errors, "How The Other Half Loves" closed. Not even the great Phil Silvers as Frank Foster, with the darkly comic Berenice Massi as his wife Fiona, Richard Mulligan and Sandy Dennis as Bob and Teresa Philips and Tom Aldredge as William Detweiler under the wonderful direction of Gene Saks - who could make anything funny on stage - could help this mediocre play survive. Mediocroity is just not allowable in comedy. A funny play needs to be funny (and I thought this one was way back in 1971) and Ayckbourn failed to make his characters truly humorous.
The play, currently inhabiting the Ghent Playhouse in Ghent, NY, is proving to be as frustrating now as it was the last time I saw it in 2008 and as it was in a different way in 1971 when the cast above first showcased it in New York City. Having lost its first of three weeks of performances due to the departure of a leading player and its recasting with the director in the role, the show seems darker and more sombre than ever before. It relies on timing and the audience's willingness to accept that the setting is two living room, two dining rooms, in the same space at the same time, or a night apart but played simultaneously. At first the idea seems ingenious but it soon becomes merely ingenuous as double dialogues running together need to bring out responses from those who cannot partake in the visible situations.
This is devilishly tricky stuff. The plot is one of mistakes. Everyone things someone else is doing something they'renot. Two of the characters, both married, are having an affair which sparks off the piece. The husband of one is the boss of the other. The wife of the other believes herself to be the object of phone sex harassment. The third wife in the picture doesn't get anything at all about what's going on and her husband is a prude trying to get ahead in business. When wife number three is assumed to be having wife number one's affair with husband number two who isn't the sadist he seems to be, all hell breaks loose in the second act. What it is is "all too silly" and just not funny.
It is a rare event for the Ghent Playhouse to present a show that doesn't work at all. This is one of those unusual occasions.
The very capable company includes Sam Reilly and Amber Herrick as William and Mary Detweiler, Todd Hamilton and Christina Smith as Bob and Teresa Philips, and Sky Vogel and Prudence Theriault as Frank and Fiona Foster Each of them presents credible and believable characters, even Vogel who was still struggling with the role on the belated opening night. Each actor in this production offers a lot of things to celebrate, but the sum of their parts is a most forgettable event, exactly as with their fabulous forebears outcome in 1971.