BWW Reviews: Theatre Southwest's HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES is Delightful, Light Comedy
Prodigious playwright Alan Ayckbourn has been acclaimed for his craft many times during his lengthy career. Currently, Theatre Southwest is presenting his first really successful play HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES. The 6 person comedy first debuted in 1969 at The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England. It went on to find success in London's West End, opening on August 5, 1970, and on Broadway, opening on March 29, 1971. The production at Theatre Southwest exemplifies why the sidesplitting comedy was so well received.
In the play, it's the early 70s and one Wednesday night, filled with debauchery and marital infidelities, is poised to ruin lives. However, with dexterous speed, Bob Phillips (who is married to Theresa) and Fiona Foster (who is married to Frank) bury their secret affair in lies about William Detweiler cheating on his wife Mary and vice versa. Over the course of the four scenes, all secrets threaten to be revealed. With these zany caricatures, true madcap comedy ensues.
David Hymel directs the piece with enthusiasm and has coached his cast to create vividly colored and vibrant personas that entertain with ease. However, where he shines the most is in Act I, Scene 2, where the writing overlaps a Thursday night dinner party at the Fosters' home with a Friday night dinner party at the Phillips' home. The common ground between the two parties is that the Detweilers were the guests at both. Without missing a beat, the cast jumps back and forth between the two tumultuous events without ever confusing the audience. Deftly, David Hymel stages the scene with ease, having the Detweilers adjust their position in their chairs to show the audience when they are with the Fosters and when they are with the Phillips. Moreover, the action never stops in either location. Thus, when the Fosters are not interacting with the Detweiliers they are pantomiming something else, and the same is true for the Phillips. The end product is a memorable and delightfully hilarious moment of affective low-budget, high-imagination theatrical magic at its finest.
Another exuberantly fun aspect is in Alan Aykbourn's writing for the play, which showcases the differences between social classes. Brian Heaton as Bob Phillips and Autumn Woods as Theresa Phillips are at the lower-end of the spectrum of the American Middle Class. Their struggles are familial obligations, monetary concerns, and frequent trips to the bar. As a couple, they yell at each other in a way that is familiar to anyone who has ever seen sitcoms like Roseanne or Grace Under Fire. At the other end of the spectrum are Crys Hymel's Fiona Foster and Scott Homes Frank Foster. With their wealth and status, their problems are not as tangible as they all center on impressions and impressing. Yet, each of these four actors imbues their characters with everything required to adequately convey this disparity. This makes the extramarital coupling between Fiona Foster and Bob Phillips all the more unlikely and all the more comical as the audience believes in the personages brought to life on the stage.
Somewhere in between the two central couples are Mary and William Detweiler, played perfectly by Michelle Drake Wilson and Scott McWhirter. Throughout the show, they are referred to as being mild mannered and even boring; however, once they are lead to incorrectly believe that the other has cheated, their manners crumble and some of the play's most humorous lines are delivered with a laudable deadpan style from each performer.
David Hymel and John Stevens Set Design mirrors the disparity in class between the two main couples. The left side of the stage is the Phillips home. It is sparsely decorated and the furniture is a humble mismatching of odds and ends. The right side of the stage is the Fosters' home. The architecture features flourishes, the décor is purposeful, and the furniture is well matched. This is also brought out in John Kaiser's painted floor. For the left side, he has created the look of old linoleum tiles. For the right side, he has given the illusion of hardwood floors.