BWW Reviews: THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE in Westport
"People do a lot of damage to each other with the best intentions," said Sir Alan Ayckbourn in 1991. "Love can do a lot of unintended damage."
That theme runs through many of Aycbourn's plays, and it is particularly strong in his 1997 play, Things We Do For Love, now playing at the Westport Country Playhouse. It has a winning combination of being the eighth Ayckbourn play to be produced at the Westport Country Playhouse, and actress Geneva Carr's fifth Ayckbourn play and director John Tillinger's fourth - and this is not trivia.
Barbara (Geneva Carr) inherited her parent's London house and turned the upstairs and the basement into separate flats. She rents the lower level to widowed postman Gilbert (Michael Mastro), who does odd jobs for her (and some really odd things with her in mind), and is about to rent the top flat to her childhood friend and classmate, Nikki (Sarah Manton) and Hamish (Matthew Greer), her boyfriend of eight months. Barbara is complicated - capable, dependable, no-nonsense, and sometimes caustic, yet lusts for her married boss, who has a "devastatingly beautiful" wife and lovely children. She was always the responsible one in school and is now the office workhorse who is seldom appreciated while the show horses are well-regarded just for showing up. Resigned to her fate in life, she compensates by keeping both her living quarters and her wardrobe in perfect, pristine order. Of course, everyone else around her has a messy life. Nikki wonders if she was born to be a victim because of her string of abusive relationships. Hamish calls Nikki a "porcelain princess," and Nikki calls Hamish "bear," as in Teddy. They find this flattering, but Barbara considers this silly and irritating. As for Gilbert, well, she tolerates him as she would any underling in the investment office where she works.
Sounds intricate enough for you? Wait till you see the split level set, brilliantly designed by James Noone with lighting by Paul Miller. Most of the play takes place in Barbara's spacious flat, but the audience gets a view of the upper unit from the floor to just above the bed that is in Barbara's former childhood bedroom, and a view of the top two feet of Gilbert's apartment. The views are just enough to let the audience see the hanky-panky going on upstairs and some of Gilbert's strange décor downstairs. The set also includes one very long staircase which leads to the top unit and a broken staircase which goes to the basement. The show is very physical, especially in the second act, including an updated fight scene from Private Lives.
But Ayckbourn's characters are more multifaceted, in this critic's opinion, than Elyot, Sybil, Victor and Amanda, and the quartet of actors in the Westport Country Playhouse's production of Things We Do For Love totally understand that. Carr's Barbara is someone everyone wants on his side, even when she is at her most opinionated about family backgrounds and food preferences. Nikki alluded to this when recalling how the students at their school called Barbara "Spike" behind her back, yet adored her. Manton's Nikki, often pure and simplistic had just enough edginess in her reaction to Hamish's dumping her for her best friend that the audience rooted for her, too. Greer's Hamish was plausible as he fell out of love with Nikki and head over heels for Barbara. As Gilbert, Mastro struck a perfect balance between being cloyingly well-meaning and a bit disturbing. These are not easy roles to play, but each cast member captures the nuances of the characters, nursing their deep emotional pain, keeping their dignity, and cautiously letting hope grow. The British accents, under the guidance of dialect coach Elizabeth Smith, were perfect and credible for each role. Laurie Churba Kohn's costumes were impeccable, reflecting Barbara's elegant flair and Nikki's casual tastes as well as Hamish and Gilbert's indifference to such matters. This critic is crossing her fingers that when Ayckbourn's play, Bedroom Farce, will be produced at the Westport Country Playhouse this time next year, Artistic Director Mark Lamos will bring back John Tillinger and this entire cast and crew. A team such as this just doesn't get any better.
Things We Do For Love will run at the Westport Country Playhouse through September 7 at 25 Powers Court, Westport. For tickets, call 203-227-4177 or visit www.WestportPlayhouse.org.