TR Robertson — If you are looking for a fun filled evening out and enjoy seeing hilarious live theatre you will want to take in the current production at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, “How the Other Half Loves” by Alan Ayckbourn. Ayckbourn is one of England’s most prolific playwrights and directors having written and produced more than 70 plays. Ten of his plays have been staged on Broadway, where he received two Tony nominations and one Tony Award. The NC Rep production is directed by award winning director Geoffrey Sherman. Sherman has been the Artistic Director for a number of theatres across the country and has won two Obie’s and nominations for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards.
Photos by Aaron Rumley
Sherman’s Design Team consisted of Resident Scenic Designer Marty Burnett, Lighting Designer Matthew Novotny, Sound Designer Aaron Rumley, Costume Designer Elisa Benzoni, Prop Designer Holly Gillard and Stage Manager Cindy Rumley.
The comedy centers around three couples – Frank and Fiona Foster, Bob and Teresa Phillips and William and Mary Featherstone. Frank runs a division of a company where he employs Bob and William. As the play opens, we discover Bob is having an affair with Frank’s wife, Fiona. Bob and Teresa are having marital problems, especially when it comes to raising their baby. Frank and Fiona have a somewhat formal and distant relationship. As Bob and Fiona try to cover up their affair they implicate William and Mary as the reason they have been staying out so late recently. As the plot thickens, Teresa and Frank invite the Featherstone’s to dinner, unknowingly on successive nights, as Teresa and Frank believe it is Mary and William who are having affairs and need counseling. The dinner parties result in total chaos and confusion for all parties concerned. All of the couples are on the verge of breaking up, tempers are flaring and everyone is confused. Frank misreads who is having an affair with whom and takes it upon himself to try and help out. Frank summons everyone to his home to clear the air, only to find out the truth about everyone’s situation, except his own. William apologizes to Mary, Teresa and Bob patch things up and poor Frank is still in the dark about Fiona’s late night adventure. As the play ends, Frank suddenly realizes who Fiona was having an affair with, he makes one more phone call and this may change his current situation.
On the surface, the plot of the play, although a little confusing, is not the key to the production and performance. Written and first performed in 1969 in England, the North Coast Rep production stayed true to the time period, music, clothing and U.K. dialect of the 60’s. The play is built around quick one liners, back and forth dialog, a very unique set design and one of the most fascinating dinner scenes presented on stage. The set is designed into two separate, but over-lapping living rooms. One is a fashionable, wood paneled room with classic furniture, the other is a more contemporary, plainly designed room that is in state of disorder. The Foster and Phillips families move in and around this unique set as though they are in their own individual homes. Many times all of the actors and actresses are on stage, going back and forth as though they are in their individual homes.
The dinner scene is designed to represent the Featherstone’s experience in each of the homes on separate evenings. The set uses a t shaped table where the Featherstone’s can swivel back and forth between the Foster and Phillips home. The Fosters table setting is formally designed with courses served. The Phillips table is more thrown together with a very disgusting soup served. The Phillips table is also minus Bob, who return in a drunken state and end in a chaotic encounter with his wife. All the while, William and Mary will swivel back and forth between the families in a perfectly timed series of movements.
“How the Other Half Loves” is enthusiastically performed by an extraordinary cast who does not miss a beat in this play built around quick, fast paced encounters between the characters built around the overlapping living rooms. The Fosters, Frank and Fiona, are played by James Newcomb and Jacquelyn Ritz. James is new to NC Rep. He has performed in numerous theatres around San Diego County. One unique aspect of his training is he has been a Fight Director for several theatre companies and teaches stage combat for the UCSD Graduate Theatre Department. He must have offered advice for the very physical and well choreographed fight scene between Bob and Teresa. I asked James if the back and forth dinner scene was difficult to rehearse and he said it took them a little longer than they thought it would to get it right, but get it right they did as shown by the audience response. Jacquelyn was perfect as the upper middle class spoiled housewife out for a little excitement in her life.
The Phillips, Teresa and Bob, played by Sharon Rietkerk and Christopher M. Williams, had the most physically demanding roles. At one another’s throats for most of the play, you began to wonder if they would ever make it through their turmoil. The Phillips are not nice people and definitely need serious parenting skills. It is both sad and laughable how they react to and treat the baby you never see in the play. Rietkerk and Williams present the Phillips exactly as the playwright must have wanted us to see them. Rietkerk has been in several NC Rep productions and was a Noel Craig Award nominee for an Old Globe performance. Williams is the current Associate Artistic Director of North Coast Rep.
The final couple, the Featherstone’s, Mary and William, are played by Noelle Marion and Benjamin Cole. William is mild and meek, except with his unusual dominance over Mary. Mary is portrayed as very, very mousy, completely controlled by William, not able to make her own decisions, but deep down fighting to become someone other than who she currently is. Marion and Cole visually paint a perfect picture of these two who are struggling as a couple just as the other two couples are. Both have been in NC Rep productions as well as other productions around the county. Cole is the Director of Theatre School Education and Outreach for North Coast Repertory Theatre.
This is a well-produced comedy with many funny situations, but a comedy that deep down does have lessons for all attending to think about concerning relationships, marriage, and love. “How the Other Half Loves” will run until May 13th. Tickets can be purchased at www.NorthCoastRep.org or call 858-481-1055.