Monday, July 18, 2011

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Takes on “Bedroom Farce” and Delivers

      Bedroom Farce by Alan Ayckbourn is a good summer choice for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company because it is a lighter script with real meat requiring a strong ensemble.  Ayckbourn’s writing style and tone is somewhere between the original British version of The Office and the original British version of Death At A Funeral.  He’s written over 70 plays since the early 1960s, though he wasn’t imported to Broadway until the 1970s.  At that time, he was compared to Neil Simon.  However, the comparison is not apt.  Simon deals mostly with Jewish and gentile New Yorkers wrestling to understand each other amid a callous urban landscape through
wisecracks and one-liners.  Ayckbourn deals mostly with the British middle-classes attempting to connect with each other while avoiding embarrassment at all costs.  There really aren’t any funny lines per se in his scripts, though the concept of each play is filled with possibilities and he works them out like geometric proofs.  If Sondheim and Prince invented the concept musical, then Ayckbourn invented the concept comedy.

      Bedroom Farce isn’t a farce.  It’s a social comedy of manners set in three bedrooms that four married couples try to possess.  Place/setting is paramount in Ayckbourn.  The Norman Conquest is a trilogy of plays with the same six characters interacting over the same weekend in three different settings on one property.  House and Garden is two plays in those settings happening simultaneously with the same characters.  The conflict in Bedroom Farce is not about trying to have sex; it’s about possessing space and strengthening connections with others.  This is the set up:  Delia and Ernest, an older couple, are going to their anniversary dinner; Kate and Malcolm are giving a housewarming party; Nick and Jan are invited to that party, but he has a slipped disc and she plans to go the party to make an appearance.  They’re the couples that own the bedrooms.  Trevor and Susannah, the fourth couple, knock everyone else off balance as they move from bedroom to bedroom, wreaking havoc wherever they go.  Trevor is Delia and Ernest’s son and Jan’s old flame and Kate has invited Trevor and Susannah to the party out of reciprocal politeness.  

      This production captures the look of the 1970s in Britain through the music choices before and after the two acts and, especially, through the costuming. The stage at CSC is a little squishy.  It seems like it should be larger since it was a single screen movie theatre in its past life, but it works well for this production because, generally, bedrooms were smaller in Britain in that period.  The pacing is exact and is a testament to the ensemble and Brian Isaac Phillips as director.  

      The acting is what makes the production tick and it ranges from reliable to excellent.  Sara Clark is wonderful as Kate, who’s basically the straight woman to the comic hijinks going on around her.  Her silent reactions and perfectly played pauses had the audience greeting her every entrance with enthusiastic anticipation.  She and Malcolm play games, give parties, and work on do-it-yourself projects because they aren’t exactly sexually compatible, which she reveals in the evening’s most hilarious scene.  Miranda McGee, the only non-Equity member of the cast and I remember when CSC was Fahrenheit and no one was Equity, is delightful as the pathologically insecure and bumptious Susannah.  Brent Vimtrup is a hoot as Trevor, a really difficult part to play because he’s the villain.  It’s suggested a number of times that he is violent and, possibly, abusive yet he comes across as a passive aggressive narcissist until he and Susannah are angrily wrestling around on the floor.  However, he’s also intriguing because he’s both vaguely wimpy and sexually dangerous, which Jan responds to in the middle of the party before realizing that she’s traded someone to whom she’s physically attracted but emotionally repelled by for someone (Nick) who really wants a nurse/hand maiden as his partner.  Jeremy Dubin as Malcolm, Kelly Mengelkoch as Jan, and Jim Hopkins as Ernest are all strong.  Nick Rose, a CSC stalwart and founder, does some wonderful physical comedy as Nick drops his book off the bed and then has to maneuver to retrieve it.  However, his accent was wobbly.  At times, he sounded like he was from London or from a northern county or even New England.  Part of the problem was because he kept using the short a like that in ‘bat’, rather than the long a like that in ‘balm’ at the beginning of some words.  Kate Wilford gave a competent performance as Delia, but she missed the contrary impulses of Delia to both give and withhold, which explains some of Trevor’s problems and is the root of her substitution of food for sex, enabled by Ernest.  Wilford also has a slightly shaky accent, though it isn’t as evident as Rose’s (and won’t be noticed by most audience members at all).  I wish she’d gone for a more upper-middle class accent like Hopkins because that would be another way of suggesting Susannah’s feelings of isolation – she is not quite of their class.  Also, Wilford’s hair was the same in Night of the Iguana and I wish her next director would insist on a cut or a wig.  Delia’s hair would be set; it wouldn’t hang like a leftover from Woodstock.  (How do I know this?  I grew up in England in the ‘70s).  However, these are minor quibbles.  Bedroom Farce is definitely worth seeing.   It’s a good production of what is a deeper script than may at first glance appear.

I like to play on the bed, especially when Eric or Neil tickle my tummy. It does tend to wear me out though.

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