The cast of “How the Other Half Loves” at Early Bird Dinner Theatre.
Spiraling falsehoods, flawed deductions and strategically timed misunderstandings and miscommunications lay the groundwork for Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s current production; but it’s the theater’s talented troupe that really makes this comedy blossom.
Ed Fletcher’s Early Bird Dinner Theatre presents “How the Other Half Loves,” by Alan Ayckbourn, running through Dec. 26, at the Italian American Club, 200 S. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater.
The play centers on three married couples: Frank and Fiona Foster, Bob and Teresa Phillips and William and Mary Detweiler. All three men work at the same company, with Frank employing both Bob and William, the latter having received a recent promotion.
“How the Other Half Loves” boasts a single set cunningly split in two, with each side representing separate living rooms. On one side is the Fosters’ home, stylish and effortlessly tidy. On the opposing side is the Phillips’ home, a little drab and evidently messy.
The play’s action takes place in both living rooms simultaneously, giving the director Robin New the ability to manipulate both time and space as the tale unfolds.
In the first scene, we learn both Bob and Fiona came home late one evening under suspicious circumstances. It quickly becomes clear that Bob, who seems to quarrel endlessly with Teresa, is having an affair with Fiona.
When Teresa confronts Bob about his late night escapade – and when Frank challenges Fiona about her tardiness on their wedding anniversary – each cheating spouse ultimately claims to have been comforting one of the Detweilers, who, they claim, are having marital problems of their own.
By the time the Detweilers arrive on stage, the deception is growing more complicated by the second. As each loose thread begins to unravel, the absurdity of the situation elicits ever increasing fits of laughter.
Gail Scott and Charles Wilcox portray the Fosters, shrewdly underscoring their characters’ aristocratic pretentiousness. Scott brings out Fiona’s cattiness as well as her arrogance, playing the perfect aloof snob. Wilcox does a wonderful job depicting Frank as terminally absent-minded and hysterically prone to jumping to all the wrong conclusions.
In playing Teresa and Bob, Tracy Borgatti and Ian MacCallum create the perfect contrast to the sterile, detached relationship of Fiona and Frank.
Borgatti and MacCallum generate plenty of heat on the stage, whether Teresa and Bob are at each other’s throats or letting their passion run wild.
Barbara Anthony and Joseph Alan Johnson conjure up some of the show’s most hilarious moments as the Detweilers. Anthony’s panicky, sniffling agoraphobic Mary doesn’t have to do anything more than snort on cue to get the audience going. As her character transforms, her performance only gets better. Johnson, meanwhile, is equally convulsive as the vapid William, whose vapid and wimpy demeanor is occasionally displaced by sudden bursts of tyranny – mainly when addressing Mary.
Despite the ingenuity of Ayckbourn’s 1969 play, it’s really the production company that makes “How the Other Half Loves” really click. All that witty dialog would fall flat without brilliant comedic timing, a talent possessed by each of these actors. Wilcox, in particular, shows his mastery of this skill in this production.
Likewise, the inventive setting must be thoroughly convincing. Eddy Lyons, set designer for this production, did a fine job, best highlighted during a scene in which the three couples enjoy “simultaneous” dinner parties, hosted on two different evenings.
Seating for performances of “How the Other Half Loves” is Thursday through Sunday, 4 p.m., with a curtain time of 6 p.m. Seating for matinees is Thursday and Saturday, 11 a.m., with curtain time of 1 p.m.