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Theater Review (Westport, CT): How The Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn

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Mix three uniquely dysfunctional couples, two wildly hysterical dinner parties, and one enormous lie with clever dialogue and intricate staging and you have the recipe for a delightfully funny evening in the form of Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy, How The Other Half Loves, now playing at the Westport Country Playhouse.

First performed in 1969, the show is a timeless analysis of the state of marriage as well as a study of the foibles of each of its couples’ individual characters. We witness what happens when two people attempt to cover up an affair by lying to their spouses about where they were on a particular evening. Unfortunately, the lie involves an innocent couple of unique characters as well, who are then invited to dinner by the lied-to spouses — and the fun begins.

L-R: Paxton Whitehead, Karen Walsh, Darren Pettie, Geneva Carr, Carson Elrod and Cecilia Hart. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The play works on many levels, the most important being the ingenious set. Though one set, it encompasses two overlapping apartments, which allows events in different homes and on different evenings to happen simultaneously. It takes a minute or two to become comfortable with this staging, but once we realize that as the players weave and move through the space, we are actually seeing their separate homes and getting glimpses of their not so separate lives, it all makes perfect sense. This duality reflects the duplicity of the cheating spouses and also serves as a comedic device when the third couple is brought in. All of the characters are on stage in the highly entertaining depiction of two separate dinner parties, and watching the hapless innocents bounce between one dinner and the next is hysterical.

The characterizations and performances by the actors also add to the enjoyment of the evening. The three couples have unique dynamics of their own, and the actors brilliantly bring each character’s idiosyncrasies to life.

Frank and Fiona Foster are an older couple with a cool, distant, yet polite marriage in the very British upper crust sort of way. Played by Paxton Whitehead, Frank is the stereotypical bumbling, dunderheaded, forgetful, yet endearing partner to Fiona, who is delightfully played with exasperated impatience by Cecilia Hart.

Fiona is having an affair with one of Frank’s employees, Bob Phillips. Darren Pettie portrays Bob with a somewhat loutish and almost menacing air, especially when dealing with his loud and complaining wife, Teresa. Teresa, as played by Geneva Carr, is a stressed and neglected new mother, who suspects Bob of cheating on her and is somewhat shrewish in her manner of pointing out to Bob her views of their unbalanced relationship.

Rounding out the trio of maladjusted marriages are William and Mary Featherstone. When questioned about their whereabouts on the night of one of their evening trysts, Bob and Fiona both tell their spouses that they were with William and Mary respectively, to lend a supportive ear to their tales of the breakup of their marriage because of infidelity. Of course, this is the lie that sets the dinner parties in motion, to the delight and confusion of the young Featherstones, who are portrayed by Carson Elrod and Karen Walsh.

Carson Elrod embodies the young nobody who, as the low man on the work totem pole, is more than willing to brown-nose his way into a promotion by courting advances with his coworker and boss. Karen Walsh, with wide-eyed innocence, is perfect as his overly shy and socially naïve wife, who has to learn to navigate the tricky waters of office politics and the blustering bullying of her equally socially inadequate husband.

It all sounds very serious and could easily border on tragedy, but the witty dialogue filled with double entendres, along with brilliant comedic timing, outstanding performances, and the interwoven dual sets all combine to make How The Other Half Loves an engaging evening of entertainment. I highly recommend this show for a night filled with laughter. How The Other Half Loves runs through August 15th at the Westport Country Playhouse.

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About CindyC

Cindy is a Connecticut writer and member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. She has had many changes in her life, but one thing has always remained the same: her life-long love of theater.