BEDROOM FARCE -- At the Olney Theater through July 13.
It's been 15 months since Alan Ayckbourn's "Bedroom Farce" was at the Kennedy Center, and now those who missed it can find it at the Olney Theater. It's amusing, though not side-splitting, and people with the merest passing acquaintance with marriage will recognize something on stage to laugh at in themselves.
British playwright Aychbourn has a thing about threes, call it "a comic number," and in this case three bedrooms are his setting. Four couples' marriages are contrasted and explored; one of the couples is without a bedroom on stage, and their disruptive rovings provide the action.
"You can tell so much about people from their bedrooms," says Delia, who's half of the oldest couple. "You can?" asks her husband Ernest, slyly looking around himself. What we get, though, are just glimpses, and only hints at what bedrooms are about.
Ruby Holbrook's comic timing gives life to her lines as the unflappable, slightly prim Delia. While dressing in an elobrate beaded gown to go out to dinner with Ernest, and taking her time, she says, "They're holding a table for us. We're regualars! We go there every year."
After dinner, she observes, "I never felt so overdressed in my life . . . all those young girls in slacks. It's all those labels sewn on in different places that I find so off-putting. I mean, nobody could seriously want to read people's bottoms."
When the couple noshes on whatever they could find as a snack -- tinned fish and toast -- she complains, "I feel as though I'm sleeping on a herring trawler."
Her husband, played endearingly by Richard Bauer, succeeds in showing just where son Trevor got his bungling. Trevor (John Neville-Andrews, who starred at the Folger in "Whose Life Is It Anyway?") manages to inflict his marital problems on all the other couples and hopes "Sorry!" will cover it. Neville-Andrews mugs and sucks his thumb and seems thoroughly into his role.
A competent actress who has polished her role, Jill P. Rose plays a sweet "normal" wife, Kate who only occasionally loses her temper. When she does, she's as surprised as we are. Nick, who spends the entire play in bed with a bad back in one of the three rooms, is Paul McCarren: He's a Robert Culp type whose understatedness gives relief when the other actors are hamming it up and restoring the slapstick toward the end.
Trevor's wife, Susannah, has been pronounced "dim by her mother-in-law (who nonetheless relishes giving her advice). To the audience' great delight, Susannah persists in a self-actualization chant whenever things go wrong: "I am not unattractive . . . People still find me attractive . . . There is nothing to be frightened of . . ."
For the cast, and the audience, there is a problem of British accents: some are real, some affected and some, unfortunately, are elusive, fading in and out; but most of us can overlook this. The players' energy and sprightly timing make up for it.