When Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods opened in 1988 at the Lucille Lortel Theater and then moved to Broadway, Ronald Reagan was President and the Soviet Union had not yet collapsed. Blessing’s two-character play about a Russian and an American diplomat discussing arms reduction in a series of meetings in Geneva was fresh and timely—and splendidly acted by Sam Waterston and Robert Prosky.
A pot of monkfish stew sits on the stove for most of Muswell Hill, Torben Betts’s barbed comedy—simmering, bubbling, issuing forth its varied flavors gradually and subtly. As does Muswell Hill. Set in 2010 in the titular leafy upscale London suburb—the equivalent of, say, Saddle River on this side of the pond—Betts’s work presents a troubled dinner party of mismatched individuals and couples, talking past and misunderstanding one another, drinking too much even though at least two begin as teetotalers, letting their libidos lead them to unwise decisions, and revealing personality traits simultaneously unexpected and inevitable. We’re in what seems familiar Alan Ayckbourn territory for much of it, then the hurts and regrets pile up, and the curtain falls on a very funny comedy that has also become a sad commentary on human foibles.