You'll laugh till your stomach muscles ache at the Eisenhower's "Bedroom Farce." Make this a must before March 24.
Alan Ayckbourn, whose "How the Other Half Loves," "Relatively Speaking" and "Absurd Person Singular" gave Washington strong cases of the giggles, is at his brilliantly crafted best in this comedy about four couples on a complex Saturday night.
Some of the present strong company appeared in Britain's National Theater production which followed Ayckbourn's customary premiere in the small theater-in-the-round he directs at Scarborough, Yorkshire. Another company currently is running in London. It is safe to predict that this will be a roaring American success.
The setting is of three very different bedrooms. At the left Ernest and Delia are readying to dine out, she pampering her almost elderly face before her hand mirror. "Have you got much further to go" he asks and, reassured, adds "Good show." There is talk of their son Trevor and his wife Susannah, who are having "some sort of trouble."
At the right, in a far more modern bedroom, are youthful Nick and Jan. Wracked by a painful back, he will spend the entire play in bed, watching book and covers slide off his rack of pain through the well-intended ministrations of Jan, who once was loved by Trevor but is now married, as we know, to Susannah.
At center is the rather tacky, tumbled bedroom of Malcolm and Kate, who love to hide shoes, kitchen pots and whatever in their bed. They are about to have a Saturday night party, and Malcolm is grieved to learn that Kate has invited Trevor. "And Susannah, TOO?" he explodes. Meek, sweet Kate nods.
On this situation, Ayckbourn builds every conceivable variation, none of them inconceivable. Through these reasonably run households the stormy conflicts of Trevor and Susannah disturb the even tenor of well-adjusted lives.
Ayckbourn's art lies in dry lines of character, hilarious under the joint direction of Ayckbourn and the National Theater's artistic director, Peter Hall.
In beautifully high comedy style, Michael Gough and Joan Hickson, as the eldest couple, prepare for bed, a snack of herring and biscuits, he reading aloud "Tom Brown's School Days," she demanding, "Who are all these people?", he replying: "Well, this is page 237 and I'm not going back to re-read the others."
To her mother-in-law Susannah comes seeking comfort. "If s-e-x ever rears its ugly head," advises Delia, quoting her mother, "just close your eyes." Hickson intones: "There's far too much talk about it. People would be far better off if they just got on with it."
With Edith Evans gone, surely Hickson will be one of her heirs to Wilde's Lady Bracknell. It's a lovely comedic portrait and so is Gough's as her husband, rich, literate comedy fine British actors do to the teeth.
Enchanting is the only word for Susan Littler, as the guileless, trusting Kate. Littler has a broad, open face, topped by blond bangs and a knot at the top of her head. With gruff, blustering Derek Newark as her partner, Littler's trustful little smiles will touch your heart and I for one can't wait to see her again.
With Polly Adams, who appeared here in "London Assurance," as chic Jan; Michael Stroud as bedded Nick; Stephen Moore as Trevor and Delia Lindsay as his imaginative wife, the cast is controlled and dazzlingly right.
Through their performances comes the quality which makes Ayckbourn so welcome a playwright. His characters are recognizably true, their situations could happen to any of us and for them all he has affectionate respect. Our angry young playwrights could learn much from this mellow, civilized, comedic writer. More than a farce, "Bedroom Farce" is human comedy.