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Alan Ayckbourn is the reigning master of the sad comedy, in which a dash of bitters adds unexpected depth to the onstage hijinks. As funny as they seem (and are) at first glance, such Ayckbourn plays as “Absurd Person Singular,” “The Norman Conquests” and “Time of My Life” cut to the dramatic quick as ruthlessly and poignantly as anything that Chekhov ever wrote. From time to time, though, Mr. Ayckbourn chooses to play his farces of marital misunderstanding straight down the middle, with results that give unfailing pleasure to those in search of nothing more than a good laugh. “Bedroom Farce,” one of his rare Broadway successes, is such a show, and Westport Country Playhouse, which has staged five of his plays in the past decade, is giving it a handsomely cast, precision-tooled revival directed by John Tillinger, a famously expert farceur, that makes the most of every twist in the plot.
Mr. Ayckbourn loves his scenic gimmicks, and “Bedroom Farce,” first performed in 1975, features one of the simplest and best: The set consists of three separate bedrooms. The first one belongs to Ernest and Delia (Paxton Whitehead and Cecilia Hart), the middle-aged parents of Trevor (Carson Elrod), a flighty fellow whose marriage to the neurotically self-conscious Susannah (Sarah Manton) is headed for the rocks. Bedroom No. 2 belongs to the newly married Malcolm and Kate (Scott Drummond and Claire Karpen), who are throwing a housewarming party. In addition to Trevor, Susannah, Malcolm and Kate, the guests include Nick and Jan (Matthew Greer and Nicole Lowrance), the occupants of Bedroom No. 3. Nick, alas, has thrown his back out and is confined to bed. Too bad for him, since Jan used to be Trevor’s girlfriend and is still susceptible—up to a point—to his charms.
You can probably guess some of what happens next, but Mr. Ayckbourn, as always, keeps the fast balls flying…
When he’s good, nobody’s better than A.R. Gurney, the author of “Love Letters” and “Sylvia” (which will have its long-overdue Broadway premiere in October) and a peerless chronicler of the protracted decline of America’s WASP ruling class. But he is, like many other similarly prolific artists, an in-and-out runner whose work varies widely in quality. Unlike its predecessor, the outstanding “Family Furniture,” “Love & Money,” Mr. Gurney’s 48th play, is light and slight, more like an extended comic sketch (an hour and 15 minutes) than a full-fledged show. As is often the case with his lesser efforts, it’s also over-explicit in its treatment of one of his preferred themes, the devastating effects of money on the souls of those who inherit it.
Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman), the principal character, is an upper-crust New Yorker who in old age finds herself beset with an inflamed case of liberal guilt which she is endeavoring to assuage by giving away all her worldly goods. Nothing surprising comes of her open-handedness, but Mr. Gurney rings his changes with smooth skill, squeezing solid chuckles out of Cornelia’s plight….
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To read my review of Bedroom Farce, go here.
To read my review of Love & Money, go here.
The trailer for Bedroom Farce: