Four couples straddle three boudoirs in Not Another Theater Company’s chatty Bedroom Farce
No slamming doors. No sex. OK, one illicit kiss. Not Another Theater Company’s production of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce can almost be defined by what it is not. Characters are rounder and more nuanced than in classic farce. It is certainly not a sitcom. Because Ayckbourn has been the United Kingdom’s top playwright of light comedies he’s long been dubbed “England’s Neil Simon.” Well, forget that. Bedroom Farce has a far more complex structure than our beloved gagmeister ever dreamed of.
Finally, in this production, currently at the Locker Room’s Fire and Ice banquet facility, 528 Hiawatha Blvd., Sir Alan is no longer British. Although some of the characters are English types, and men have names like Trevor and Malcolm, everyone speaks in an American accent and most British references are scrubbed. Except for those tell-tale “Bloody!”s to remind you where this is supposed to be.
The crammed set consists of three contrasting bedrooms, cheek by jowl, from left to right. Dustin Czarny’s company prides itself in conjuring up the impossible, like having 20 Marines in uniform on the tiny stage at the Locker Room for A Few Good Men. This time the three bedrooms come out smaller than those from the Motel 6 franchise so that contrasts between them diminish along with the size. That means the set designers, director Patricia Catchouny and Czarny, rely mostly on colors: polite blue at left, raging magenta in the middle and half-done patchwork at right.
Running between the three bedrooms are four couples, one for each bedroom and a fourth who passes among the three, mixing things up. To help us along, Ayckbourn has the oldest and most stable couple, Ernest (Lanny Freshman) and Delia (Kathy Egloff), in the blue bedroom, explain some relationships and their feelings toward people before we actually see them. Their son Trevor (Nathan Faudree) is now married to Susannah (Crystal Roupas), of whom they disapprove, but his previous main squeeze was the much preferred Jan (Joanne Rougeaux), now married to Nick (Doug Rougeaux). At the beginning of the action Ernest and Delia are going out to celebrate their anniversary just as the youngest couple Malcolm (Justin Polley) and Kate (Susan Johnson), in the undone room at right, are preparing to host a housewarming to be attended by the two other younger couples.
What playwright Ayckbourn and director Catchouny must do is keep all four balls in the air all the time. During much of Bedroom Farce there’s a lot of cinematic jump-cutting with attendant lighting cues. Toward the beginning this helps us to handle all the exposition and make sure not one of the quartet gets left behind. With each couple we find a different style and pace of comedy. Nick, for example, is bedbound with a sore back, unable to attend Malcolm and Kate’s party, which leads to a running gag about his losing the book he’s trying to read without being able to pick it up from the floor. His bed, in the middle bedroom, will also endure the greatest volume of traffic in which nearly everyone gets a chance to upset his mattress and inflict more pain on him.
In a barely there sexual feint, the would-be housewarming hostess Kate enters her bedroom wrapped only in a towel, ostensibly because she has just come from the bath. It’s very G-rated, but to avoid any hint of compromise, she hides under the bedcovers. Malcolm and Kate, we already know, are slovenly housekeepers and so anything, like hardware or old boots, might be found in bed with her. At the same time, untoward visitors arrive and pile garments on the bed, further burying Kate. It’s part of Ayckbourn’s humor, or maybe it’s really just British, that when we see a shtick developing, we know it will accelerate, fulfilling rather than refuting our expectations.
Bedroom Farce does not play favorites, which is another way of saying that we’re never supposed to like one couple more than another. What Ayckbourn does with all the cross-cutting is to encourage us to see each of the four in relationship to the other, changing our view as events unfold. This is highly ambitious in comedy where characters tend to remain fixed.
Take the older couple, Ernest and Delia, who seem to be out of the play No Sex, Please, We’re British. When Ernest looks for a pillow book it’s Tom Brown’s School Days (Lady Chatterly need not apply). Recalling what they really liked to do together in bed, Ernest opts for (wait for it) eating sardines. With those unavailable, he settles for pickled herring.
Delia might be a little on the bossy side, and the eldest couple seems for much of the play to have all the affection of two night watchmen on a shared assignment. Set against the fecklessness and self-absorption of the younger couples, however, their stock goes up. Stability, sacrifice and concern for one another may not be sexy, but for a lifetime union they recommend much. Catchouny has wisely cast her two most experienced players with Kathy Egloff and Lanny Freshman. Then again, making Ernest American diminishes his drollery.
Opposite Ernest and Delia are their confused son Trevor and his wife Susannah, whom Nick reminds us, was “born in a wreck.” In some of his cruelest portrayals, Ayckbourn invites us to laugh at Susannah’s futile attempts to shore up her fragile confidence. This self-help cheerleading has her telling herself, privately, that people really like her and find her attractive. This also means we should find comic her devastation at finding Trevor kissing his ex-, Jan, in Kate’s crowded bedroom. This sends her to the only available island of comfort, the bedroom of Ernest and Delia.
In the end, Catchouny asks the most from Nathan Faudree as the screw-up Trevor, who wreaks havoc wherever he stumbles. The busy Faudree, memorable as Jonathan in last summer’s Arsenic and Old Lace for Appleseed Productions, comes with that chameleonic ability of looking like a different person in every outing. Despite the loss of the accent, here he’s a beefy but delirious Hugh Grant, incoherent rather than stuttering, who milks the maximum from his pathetic response, “Sorry.”
Despite Ayckbourn’s popularity in Britain, he hasn’t always crossed the Atlantic well. Bedroom Farce has
never been performed on Broadway, only off-Broadway. This is Not
Another Theater Company’s energetic but uneven attempt to make him our
This production runs through Saturday, Jan. 14. See Times Table for information.