"How the Other Half Loves," the first of the farces which Alan Ayckbourn into the pigeonhole labeled "Britain's Neil Simon," had an unfortunate American bow. The Hayloft Dinner Theater cleverly redeems this National premiere of seven years ago with delightfully smarter production, guaranteed to please the diners through Dec. 23.
With Phil Silvers, Sandy Dennis and Tom Aldredge among the six players, the 71 production transplanted a distinctly British situation to a New York suburb. This obliterated the class distinctions, so strong in such Ayckbourn comedies as "Absurd Person Singular," "The Norman Conquests" and the Eisenhowerbound "Bedroom Farce."
Ayckbourn's major trick here is to play two separate dinner party scenes of two different evenings simultaneously.The wife of the boss has been having a wee fling with a married subordinate. Together they manufacture gossip about a couple of the lower orders in the firm's chain of class distinctions. Clever chaos blooms.
By keeping the setting British (with minor verbal changes), director Sandra C. Hastie serves the play well. It is meaningful that boss Foster, created by Robert Morley, be lordly if vague, contrasting the aiming-to-please lower third of the three couples, the upwardly-straining Detweillers. And it is important that the middle couple, the Phillipses, are seen as scatter-brained products of easy education. Class distinctions are blurred in American life. Despite's Shaw's "Pygamalion," they are integral to the British.
A forestage eases designer Jeremy Conway's set problem, and the joined Thursday-Friday dinner party scenes work hilariously well. An actress new to me, Simon McQueen, is admirably capable as Mrs. Foster, and Richard Abernathy's Bob Phillips has a farceur's vital ease.
Completed by Sherry Skinker, Christi Warnick, Robert McDonald and David Emge, the cast is on a wholly professional level, best in a dinner theater in some time. Which is as it should be, for food-conscious Hayloft is an Equity house. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays.