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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Despite putdowns about his mass producing plays and his deliberate appeal to popular taste, more than 40 of his plays have been produced in London's West End. American productions of Communicating Doors, Private Fears Public Places and Intimate Exchanges have made audiences on this side of the pond increasingly aware that this is an extaordinary playwright, whose deliberate blurring of tragedy and comedy makes his plays as darkly underscored as they are funny (think Chekhov's insistence on tagging his plays as comedies). As for the truism about doors to support the farce label, as anyone smart enough to buy a ticket to TACT's Bedroom Farce can attest, this IS a farce whose larger-than-life characters are moved in and out of real situations with timing that's sharp and hilarious as any slamming door.
Bedroom Farce has eight larger-than life characters, all married. The fact that everything plays out in the bedrooms of three of the couples, hardly makes this a sex farce. Sure, there's a lot of activity going on in each bedroom (eating snacks, drinking cocoa, talking, fighting, building a table, reading), but none of it includes sex. And so, as Ayckbourn's farce has no slamming doors, so it features a sex farce setting without sex.
While all the bedrooms are visible, the action shifts back and forth as the fourth and wildly dysfunctional couple, Trevor (Mark Alhadeff) and Susannah (Eve Bianco), descend separately or together on the others, wreaking havoc wherever they go. The first bedroom belongs to Trevor's parents, Delia (Cynthia Harris) and Ernest (Larry Keith), a forever-together couple whose cozy-comfy longevity is bolstered with hilariously trivial conversation and snacks taken in bed as an anniversary treat. The second, slightly raised bedroom belongs to Kate (Ashley West) and Malcolm (Sean Dougherty) who are giving a big housewarming party. Unfortunately, Trevor and Susannah are on the guest list, as is Trevor's former girlfriend Jan (Margaret Nichols). When the insecure Susannah sees Trevor and Jan kissing, havoc ensues sending the guests scurrying for less troubled waters and leaving Malcom to put together a table which turns into a potently funny symbol of their marriage. In the meantime, Jan's husband Nick (Scott Schafer) is suffering the physical agonies of a wrenched back. When Trevor, who has a talent for always doing and saying the wrong thing, arrives to apologize for the party-pooping kiss, he adds mental agony to Nick's back pain.
Set designer Robin Vest has accomplished a major feat in making the small Beckett stage accommodate three bedrooms. And, with Jenn Thompson at the helm, Ayckbourn's masterful craftsmanship is evident in every seamless boudoir to boudoir shift.
Naturally, any farce is only as good as its farceurs, and this entire ensemble squeezes every farcical nuance from their roles. Harris and Keith are beguilingly banal as the older couple. Scott Schafer makes Nick's physical and mental agonies hilarious. and Mark Alhadeff is perfection as a selfish adolescent in an adult's body whose every " Sorry" underscores his boorish ineptitude. I could say something glowing about every member of this cast, but you get the idea. They all give memorable performances and this Bedroom Farce is a wonderful, fun way for TACT to launch its season.
Links to Other Ayckbourn plays Reviewed at Curtainup
Absurd Person Singular
By Jeeves (with Andrew Lloyd Weber)
A Chorus of Disapproval
House and Garden
Private Fears in Public Places
Woman In Mind