If you saw the Huntington’s delicious production of Alan Ayckbourn’s BEDROOM FARCE, then you know he’s a master of contemporary comedy (with over eighty plays in his resume) and a witty wordsmith in the tradition of Oscar Wilde. (Just about everyone I know marks THE NORMAN CONQUESTS their favorite.)
The old Lyric Stage Company on Charles Street introduced Boston to Ayckbourn’s brand of physical comedy over thirty years ago, producing many of his farces, among them a smashing version (or should I say versions) of his INTIMATE EXCHANGES (which have over sixteen permutations.) Happily, it has resurfaced this month at the Nora Theatre in Central Square.
The current, spiffy production (playing through Feb. 12th) is directed by Olivia D’Ambrosio. It’s a slow starter but once the machine gets momentum, it works like gangbusters. Mind you, you have to have a taste for British farce… and it always takes an audience ten minutes or so to acclimate to the English accents and the rhythms of farce. As they say, tragedy is easy. Comedy is hard. It has to be just light enough and just fast enough to explode in the vicinity of your hypothalamus.
Acykbourn’s conceit (and he always has one) is that two actors play four people, exiting just as their alternate character arrives, barely missing their alter ego, as it were. The Nora production adds audience participation (not to worry) to the mix in that we vote at intermission for one of two possible endings.
Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Jade Ziane portray an unhappy husband and wife, their cheeky gardener and an overexcited teenager who flirts shamelessly with the willing grounds keeper. The wife, too, is tempted by the attentive gardener who then falls head over heels for her, annoying the teenager no end… while the husband drowns his career troubles in whisky, hardly aware of the Sturm and Drang swirling about him.
The physical comedy is superb (the relentless hiccups being my favorite), the double entendres are hilarious and the character delineations are spot on. Changing character is easier for an actress because she has wigs to help out. An actor must change his looks with his wits (and in this case, a mustache). I don’t know how Ziane managed it, but his eyebrows remained in the usual place as the gardener but leapt downward, knitting together like the top of an inverted triangle as the disapproving husband, practically meeting in his semi-scowl. He hardly needed that mustache! His monologue on “the ten reasons why one is driven to drink” is reason alone to see the play.
Bedard as the headmaster’s neglected wife, too, handles the twin states of exasperation and confusion like a seasoned comedienne. Both actors covey their characters, to a large extent, through their vocal pitch and I couldn’t keep from noticing that Bedard in wife mode sounds exactly like Debra Wise, the co-founder of The Central Square Theatre, something I found fascinating but not particularly germane to the production. Suffice it to say, if you like Ayckbourn, do take in this little gem.