Wednesday , February 21 2024
This thoroughly enjoyable farce picks up where Noël Coward left off, but with a female character in charge.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘The Cottage’ by Sandy Rustin

Critics and theatergoers sometimes ponder the merits of old plays vs. new plays, well-worn and proven works vs. fresh and mysterious pieces whose endings we don’t know. Now and then, though, we get a production where that distinction holds no meaning, and that’s the case with Sandy Rustin’s scintillating new comedy in the style of Noël Coward.

Jason Loughlin* as "Beau" and Amy Rutberg* as "Sylvia" in APAC's production of Sandy Rustin's "The Cottage" directed by Adam Dannheisser. Photo by Matt Yeager
Jason Loughlin* as “Beau” and Amy Rutberg* as “Sylvia” in APAC’s production of Sandy Rustin’s ‘The Cottage’ directed by Adam Dannheisser. Photo by Matt Yeager

A story of big personalities, well-earned laughs, and hidden connections revealed at dramatically opportune moments, The Cottage is fueled by witty dialogue, lots of humor, and an ending which at the end of Act I you can see coming like a train in a tunnel. Right from the start we know who’s the guiding force of the action, too.

Stephen K. Dobay’s spectacular set features hedge-crowded windows, bookshelves under the stairs, a brass umbrella stand, a boar’s head, green patterned wallpaper, a hexagonal transom window above an arched doorway, and a dollhouse of which, at the end, excellent use is made – everything screaming “English countryside cottage.” Draped luxuriously across a small couch is Sylvia (Amy Rutberg), creamy and deliciously dominant in blonde curls and a stunning green negligee. She’s here at the cottage for her once-a-year fling with Beau (the convincing Jason Loughlin), a neatly composed, tastefully randy lawyer who finds himself looking forward to ever more divorce-related paperwork as the evening’s action progresses in Aristotelean real time.

Three present or former couples, an absurdly tangled web of affairs, a dying materfamilias, an extremely pregnant sister-in-law, a slightly loaded gun, a changed identity, and plenty of tea and cigarettes infuse an unceasing flow of smart dialogue conveying a story that looks with irony at the uninformed past that was Coward’s present (“I love it when you smoke! You look the picture of health!”). All these elements spin up into a delightful farce impressively true to the tradition it co-opts. With a fine cast, convincing English accents (mostly), crisp direction by Adam Dannheisser, and clever period and faux-period music, the play and the production touch just about all the bases.

One missing element is any sense of a relationship between Sylvia and her husband Clarke (Kevin Isola), a relatively underwritten part. The script doesn’t convey any sense of that marriage, in contrast with the other relationships all of which feel more or less meaty and substantial. The play is breezy fun but built on a foundation of artful character studies, and when one vector that seems like it ought to be there isn’t, it’s noticeable. Fortunately, the fun is so unbroken that I didn’t feel the missing element until the very end, precisely when the couple in question said goodbye.

This thoroughly enjoyable farce, the first mainstage production of the Astoria Performing Arts Center’s 13th season, runs through Nov. 23 in APAC’s comfortable theater space in the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church (no hard pews here!) in Astoria, Queens, a short subway ride from Manhattan. For schedule and tickets visit APAC’s website.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

Check Also

Helen. featuring Lanxing Fu, Grace Bernardo, and Melissa Coleman-Reed (photo by Maria Baranova)

Theater Review: ‘Helen.’ by Caitlin George – Getting Inside Helen of Troy

In this compelling new comedy Helen of Troy is not a victim, a pawn, or a plot device, but an icon of feminist fortitude.