For a comedy that is almost 50 years old, HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES finds that Alan Ayckbourn’s comedic play about class, marriage, and infidelity still has a lot that resonates now. Playing at the North Coast Repertory Theatre through May 13th, this is a period comedy finds the funny in comic confusion.
The marriages in question belong to three couples: the well to do Fosters who have been married for many years, the acrimonious middle class Phillips who have been married for a few years, and the Featherstone’s a more recently married couple. Both husbands work for Frank Foster (James Newcomb) which makes it more awkward that Bob Phillips (Christopher M. Williama) is sleeping with Franks wife, Fiona Foster (Jacquelyn Ritz).
When Bob and Fiona both are confronted about their whereabouts by suspicious spouses Teresa (Sharon Rietkerk) and Frank, they each unbeknownst to the other, cite William (Benajmin Cole) and Mary (Noelle Marion) Featherstone as their alibi.
After this the confusion and the chain of events build to the Featherstone’s being invited to a dinner party by each couple on successive nights. In a clever bit of writing (and staging and direction) these dinners play out simultaneously on stage with the Featherstone’s pivoting between to two events with lots of animated laughter from the audience.
What’s key to making this work is the cast and the direction from Geoffrey Sherman. Sherman keeps everything sharp and swiftly moving so the audience feels as caught up in the events as the cast of characters. With such weighty matters as love and marriage he keeps everything feeling light and buoyant.
Newman is endearing as the sweet, slightly befuddled, Frank who loves his wife but isn’t a fool enough to not be able to piece things together. Ritz, as his wife Fiona is a socialite with a bite, as she plays an elegant cougar on the prowl.
Williams and Rietkirk are both funny as the messy Phillips – both just as willing to fight as they are to express their affection to each other.
Cole as William Featherstone is very funny as the well-meaning but slightly controlling husband who tries to get Mary to break out of her shell. Marion as Mary has the most growth as her character goes from frightened introvert to someone who is not above a little bit of rebellion at the end.
Besides the corded land line phones they all use (youngsters Google it, it’s how people used to connect before cell phones), there are a few moments that don’t translate so well in our current time. Franks memory lapses can seem less funny and more like early dementia, Teresa’s casual indifference for her baby’s current location or activities may make a modern helicopter Mom faint, and the response one character has when questioned about his spouses hypothetical infidelity, “I suppose I’d hit her,” makes it a bit harder to to find the humor.
The clever set by Marty Burnett compliments the overlap of the households and the couple’s lives that plays out upon it. Costume design by Elisa Benzoni is perfect for the time period as well as fashionable in any time.
If nothing else, HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES proves that love and marriage are still prime fodder for entertainment, no matter when it is set.
HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES is playing t the North Coast repertory Theatre through May13th. For tickets and show time information go to www.northcoastrep,org or call 858-481-1055