By Jean Lowerison
Dated play is still as funny after 50 years
Infidelity can be so … confusing, can’t it?
Playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn consolidated his reputation with the 1969 comedy “How the Other Half Loves,” and it continues to be an audience favorite wherever it plays. North Coast Repertory’s version is no exception: the run was extended a week (through May 13) before it opened.
Geoffrey Sherman directs this crazy show, which makes fun of class differences, sexual mores and dinner parties.
Frank Foster (James Newcomb), a posh, gray-haired member of the gentry, has a memory which isn’t what it once was, and a wife named Fiona (Jacquelyn Ritz) who isn’t quite who he thinks she is.
Frank’s resentful, middle-class subordinate Bob Phillips (Christopher M. Williams) is married to Teresa (Sharon Rietkerk), a social activist who writes oodles of letters to the editor that the “Guardian” never prints.
The main topic of conversation in the Foster and Phillips households at the top of the show is this: Why won’t Fiona and Bob tell their respective spouses where they were last night until 2 a.m.?
Then there are the new guys in town, the Featherstones. William (Benjamin Cole), “a whiz with numbers,” is new to the company. His wife Mary (Noelle Marion) is a mousy little thing, timorous and not the chatty type.
Marty Burnett’s set has one set of furniture but two front doors (and two other doors), through which one of another Phillips or Foster is likely to enter. The Fosters and the Phillipses can be onstage at the same time. It looks almost like a farce setup.
The craziness starts with intended civility. Both the Fosters and the Phillipses invite the Featherstones to dinner on successive nights, but the meals are played out simultaneously on the same table. Think about that for a minute.
Between Fiona’s avocado appetizer that “tastes like pineapple” and Teresa’s soup that “smells like air freshener,” conversation is attempted but soon invective is thrown around — along with the soup — and, later, accusations about who’s been sleeping with whom.
You get the picture: just your ordinary dinner party.
The capable cast plays the looniness for all it’s worth (and the opening night audience lapped it up). Frank’s memory lapses probably seemed funnier in 1969 than they do today, but Newcomb is fun to watch anyway. Ritz is fine as his imperious wife.
Rietkerk will make you giggle as the slovenly, middle-class, new-mom Teresa, though her casual attitude toward the newborn may be a bit disquieting. Williams is easy to dislike as her two-timing spouse.
Cole and Martin are written rather as props, but they make the most of their characters.
You’ll recognize the ’60s music (by Aaron Rumley) and Elisa Benzoni’s costumes are perfect.
“How the Other Half Loves” is a bit dated, but still funny.
—Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.