The British are brilliant at farce, which is a combination of the inane and the ridiculous, spotted with clever dialogue and rapidly paced comedy; farce is also laced with a bit of slapstick thrown in for good measure. The world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s Farcicals at 59E59 Theaters is representative British frivolity, the double bill superbly acted by a four-person ensemble. Ayckbourn’s direction is clever, his comedic timing exacting.
Back to back and separated by an intermission, the one-act plays Chloe With Love and The Kidderminster Affair provide lighthearted entertainment that even the actors (Elizabeth Boag, Bill Champion, Sarah Stanley and Kim Wall), who play extensions of the same characters in both one-acts, appear to be enjoying. And as with all Ayckbourn, there is more to this amusement than is initially apparent. Though the fun is lively hysterics, there is also a darker side and soupçons of truth about human nature.
Both one-acts center on infidelity. Chloe With Love and The Kidderminister Affair revolve around two benign and rather ordinary suburban neighbor couples. In each of these short works, these unassuming friends join each other in an evening get-together and share male and female secrets, decry the opposite sex, and elevate the superiority of their own. The audience recognizes mindsets and personalities typical or reflective of their own friends and neighbors, and the themes of love after marriage, sex, and wanderlust that carry weight if we reflect upon their deeper elements.
To help friend Lottie deal with husband Teddy’s alleged “roving eye,” Penny (Elizabeth Boag) gives Lottie (Sarah Stanley) a fantastic makeover to spice up Lottie’s wilted, troubled marriage. Desperate to attract Teddy again, Lottie gets carried away with the role-playing. She transforms herself into a “new woman” and unleashes the inner hottie boiling underneath her surface. Lottie’s new identity is so dynamic that neither Penny’s husband Reggie (Kim Wall) nor dim-witted Teddy (Bill Champion) recognizes her.
The ridiculous send-up for these stock characters together with a few recurring meaty jokes established at the top of the act create the framework for Ayckbourn to whirl his seemingly cotton-candy characterizations and set them loose in a carnival of hijinks. The two couples collide against each other like bumper cars and the clamoring humor builds to a climax. This is farce at its best, grounded in the silliness of the situation. However, we do recognize the reality that human nature borders on the twisted, especially when issues of infidelity, lust and marital boredom are involved.
These threads continue in The Kidderminister Affair, but the stakes are raised; the infidelity has blossomed and strikes close to home. In fact it is downright neighborly. The beginning of the second one-act is the same as the first as are the characters. Only this time when Lottie confides that she believes Ted is having an affair the plot redirects. Clues are relayed that suggest he has indeed been unfaithful. How bits and pieces of the truth are revealed and then hidden again and how each character deals with the revelations create a mounting hysteria. Ultimately, the interactions among the characters are explosive and riotous.
The buildup culminates in the full-blown slapstick manifest in adult infantile behavior. With the talents of this cast and Ayckbourn’s direction, the shining result is wacky and brilliant. There is none of the forced feeling of pressure that the actors are trying for laughs. They have all grounded themselves in emotional reality. The result is our abandonment into belly-laughs.
Farcicals may be enjoyed at 59E59 until June 29th. Look for Alan Ayckbourn in the audience if you can still get tickets.