“In married life, three is company, two is none,” Oscar Wilde’s witty altruism, could have easily derived its inspiration directly from the pages of Alan Ayckbourn’s personal diary (or blog for all you post-Gen X’ers). No stranger to dysfunctional relationships, Ayckbourn relied heavily on the theme of marriage in many of his plays from the early 1970’s and Bedroom Farce is no exception. And what this piece lacks in the “creative title” department, it more than makes up for in its facetious attempt to examine the nature of connubial bliss. First written for the National Theatre in 1975, Bedroom Farce is a voyeuristic peep into the lives (and bedrooms) of four British couples in various stages of their marital tenure (think Love, American Style with a through-line). The play takes place over the course of one Saturday evening and concerns itself with Trevor and Susannah, a couple on the verge of divorce who naively impose their respective burdens on friends and family alike. The result is a blithe, insightful examination of both human nature and the institution of marriage.
Given the play’s 30-year absence from New York audiences, it is no coincidence that the acclaimed Actors Company Theatre/TACT – whose mission is to produce “neglected or rarely produced plays of literary merit” – celebrates the launch of its 2008-09 season with what is arguably one of Ayckbourn’s most charming, if not overlooked, comedies.
Under the skillful direction of Jenn Thompson, the production appears effortless and comfortable on Robin Vest’s exposed, multi-leveled (and sometimes a bit too confining) set, which consists of three separate bedrooms occupying a split stage configuration. Thompson’s staging, much like the text, takes few risks but maximizes the space efficiently and capitalizes on her undeniable mastery of physical comedy.
Rhythmically, the show stumbles a bit early on, but hits its full stride with the introduction of Trevor (Mark Alhadeff); a wonderfully adorable, self-absorbed psychoanalytic who has trouble communicating effectively and is innocently impervious to the reprimands of others. Alhadeff’s portrayal is, at the very least, genuine and apologetic and is reminiscent of a child who, oblivious to the consequences, continues to reach across the hot stove for the forbidden cookie jar. Trevor may have a lot to be sorry for, but Alhadeff is the joyful opposite whose performance alone is worth the price of admission.
Other noteworthy performances include TACT founding member Larry Keith (Earnest) as Trevor’s misplaced and somewhat abstract father, who is more concerned with the leaky roof than his own wedding anniversary. Similarly, Scott Schafer (Nick) as the sarcastic, bedridden husband of Trevor’s ex-girlfriend, Jan, is both hysterical and, at times, wonderfully inappropriate.
Despite its lackluster title, Bedroom Farce is a lively, if not altogether astute, commentary on the state of our unions which legitimizes itself in the masterful hands of TACT. With a lean running time of just under two hours (including a 15 minute intermission), Bedroom Farce leaves plenty of time to analyze your own relationship with your significant other on the subway ride home. After all, if marriage was this fun, Ayckbourn would be one comedy short and Wilde one short of comedy.