River Rep, the professional New York repertory theatre company opens its 19th summer season at the historic Ivoryton Playhouse with Alan Ayckbourn's inventive farce, "How The Other Half Loves." This comedy takes place in 1982 and is about three London couples who are linked by their business association, but divided by class. When an adulterous affair among them comes to light, the guilty pair invent a lame excuse about the third innocent couple which requires a more elaborate attempt to cover it up and mayhem ensues. Ayckbourn examines the dilemmas of three couples whose marriages are troubled, but sets the action in two different places at the same time and one scene occurs on two different evenings at the same time. Director Evan Thompson casts topnotch performers in these roles and they leave the audience laughing at their crazy antics and mixed up lives.
Evan's direction is excellent especially in the dinner scene where the third couple turns back and forth from each party with split second timing. The set design by Nicole Coppinger helps the audience keep track of the two different homes with the 8 flats used for the set. She accomplishes this with a rich wooden paneling for the upper class couple and a light blue for the lower class couple on alternate flats. The swiveling chairs used by the third couple are raised up so you don't miss a moment of the merriment at both dinner parties. Stage manager Rychard Curtiss keeps things moving smoothly backstage as well as calling the cues for the numerous sound and lighting changes.
The wealthy couple, Frank and Fiona Foster are played by Warren Kelley and Jackie Sidle. Fiona is having an affair with Frank's business associate Bob Phillips and she has been getting away with it because of Frank is an addlebrained exercise fanatic. Warren is hilarious as the dimbulb hubby with his fantastic double takes and wacky stories. Frank misconstrues things and gets the other couples into hot water. Jackie who is usually a gum chewing tart, gets to play the upper class snob with ice water in her veins in this show. Fiona forgets her anniversary, looks down on the lower class and makes disparaging comments about a baby drooling on her carpet. His long stories that go nowhere and her reactions to them are comic, too. The lower class couple, Bob and Terry Phillips are played by Owen Thompson and Elisabeth Rodgers. Owen makes Bob into a pompous, drunken, wife beating cad. Bob can't stand the messy house, the pesty off stage antics of the baby and not having his meals made for him on time. Elisabeth is a manic mess as Terry. She can't cope with the house, the baby and the constant rejections of her letters to the newspapers. One of the funniest moments occurs when the third couple eats her horrible soup with air freshener in it. Their argument scenes are farcical and one of them turns into a love making session which leads to a black eye. The third couple, William and Mary Featherstone are played by David Christopher Wells and Jenn Thompson. They have the most difficult roles in the show especially in the dinner scene where their split second timing is perfect. They have to react to the antics of the others at first and finally have their bigger reactions in the second act. David's funny bits include wiping his hands on the curtains after Terry hands him a dirty diaper and trying not to wet his pants at the Foster's when he can't escape to get to the loo. Jenn who is a gorgeous blond, plays the dowdy, plain looking, mousey Mary wonderfully. Some of her funny bits include hiding behind her husband due to her shyness and her making him apologize to her for the first time because he has never been wrong in his life. So for a comedic look at life in London, be sure to get to the Ivoryton Playhouse to see this British farce. This historic building built in 1908, became the first summer stock theatre in Connecticut in 1930 and nearly a century later it is still thriving and presenting quality summer theatre by River Rep since 1987, in a beautiful and air conditioned theatre.