How The Other Half Loves
by Willard Manus
Alan Ayckbourn has become the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble's favorite playwright, thanks largely to director Barry Philips, who has mounted four of Ayckbourn's works for the company: A Chorus of Disapproval, Things We Do For Love, Communicating Doors and the play under review, HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES. The British-born Philips (a skilled actor in his own right) has a special way with Ayckbourn that has led to long runs at the Odyssey each time out. Judging from the audience response to HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES--2 1/2 hours of almost non-stop laughter--the love affair between OTE and Ayckbourn will continue unabated.
Ayckbourn, who works out of his own theatre in Scarborough, has written seventy plays and was knighted in 1997 for services to the British theatre. LOVES, his second full-length play, was written in 1969, played on Broadway in 1971 and has been performed around the world ever since.
As OTE's artistic director, Ron Sossi, observes in a program note, "Ayckbourn is a master of 'theatrical device,' always some clever trick upon which the given evening's theatrical event is centered. Revolving doors that transport us through time, sets that only reveal minute portions of the characters' bodies, plays within plays that merge the realities of both actor and character, etc. etc. Some might call these 'gimmicks' and if this is true so be it...for Ayckbourn relishes the invention and childlike 'what ifs?' that are the cornerstone of a truly imaginative theatre."
In LOVES the device involves two married couples who inhabit the same (but split) set. Each lives its own life, sometimes in tandem with the other, sometimes on its own. When their paths cross, they engage in dialogue; when story lines run parallel they don't hear or relate to each other. This makes eavesdroppers or voyeurs of the audience; we can spy on them, but they can't spy on each other.
What puts them in conflict is that old staple of farce: adultery. Fiona Foster (Sarah Brooks) is married to a successful but dull and bumbling businessman (Greg Mullavey), but she's having a love affair with the loutish Bob Phillips (Ron Bottitta), whose slatternly wife Teresa (Tracie Lockwood) is too busy looking after a new baby to notice. A third couple, the Featherstones (Scott Roberts and Kate Hollinshead), gets accidentally caught up in the crossfire and confusions sparked by the Foster/Phillips marital disharmony.
Ayckbourn juggles multiple narrative complications skilfully; Philips and his actors handle the playwright's twisted take on reality with equal assurance and ease. The result is a farce that is as entertaining as it is zany.
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Call 310-477-2055 or visit odysseytheatre.com