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How The Other Half Loves at PICT Classic

What should be a series of comedy mishaps feels like sorties into the enemy camp

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From left: Tony Bingham, Gayle Pazerski and Daina Michelle Griffith in PICT Classic's How the Other Half Loves - PHOTO COURTESY OF SUELLEN FITZSIMMONS
  • Photo courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons
  • From left: Tony Bingham, Gayle Pazerski and Daina Michelle Griffith in PICT Classic's How the Other Half Loves

British playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn has written more than 70 full-length works, and I've seen enough to recognize the Ayckbourn schematic. There's usually a bit of stagecraft manipulating time and space inside the world of the play, and almost all of those worlds involve our old friend Suburban Infidelity.

PICT Classic Theatre presents 1969's How the Other Half Loves, one of Ayckbourn's earliest successes and a foreshadowing of his later work. We're in the homes of the Fosters (Fiona and Frank) and the Phillipses (Bob and Teresa). But here's the gimmick: It's the same home — or rather, it's the two homes mashed up together. One armchair is in the Phillips' home, another is in the Fosters; one half of the sofa is Foster territory, the other, Phillips. This allows us to be in both places at the same time as Suburban Infidelity rears its head: Fiona has had an affair with Bob (who works for Frank) and, for reasons of plot, they both involve Bob's coworker William Detweiler and his wife, Mary, as their alibis. Pretty soon, lies are building upon lies and the whole thing works up into a classic farcical froth.

Or it should. Ayckbourn has stated that 50 percent of the laughs in the show come from the comedic pressure engendered by the composite set. But PICT director Martin Giles has chosen to de-emphasize that feature. Instead of clockwork movement, interwoven blocking and the juxtaposition of action in the two households, this production feels more like a split screen, with two independent plays happening side-by-side.

Giles' penchant for brusque, angry acting is in evidence here — this is a loud production where, from lights-up, everyone onstage already seems furious with everyone else. What should be a series of comedy mishaps feels like sorties into the enemy camp.

It's understandable, then, that the performances get a bit broad and most of the characters seem to be a collection of quirks and bits, rather than fully developed human beings. But I did enjoy Daina Michelle Griffith's underplaying as Fiona, and James FitzGerald, for holding off on the histrionics for as long as possible.

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