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How the Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn – Los Angeles area (Long Beach) Theater Review

 

THE CASE FOR ALAN AYCKBOURN

 

picture – How the Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn – Long Beach, CA 2010 – photo by Shashin DesaiTheater Review

by Harvey Perr 

published May 18, 2010 

 

How the Other Half Loves

now playing in the greater Los Angeles area at International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center  

through May 23 

 

My brothers and sisters in the critical community of Los Angeles have, for the most part, praised the International City Theatre production of Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, zeroing in on its comic brilliance and on the director’s sense of timing. As has happened so many times in recent months, I cannot help but feel that we couldn’t possibly have seen the same production of the same play.

 

Let me start off by saying that I have been a big fan of Ayckbourn’s ever since 1972 when I was fortunate enough to see a production of Absurd Person Singular in which an American cast (that included Geraldine Page and Sandy Dennis) found the perfect British cadences and rhythms of its language, the demarcation of class differences was made sharply and lucidly, and the elaborate set-up was paid serious attention to, so that when the laughs, rooted in character, came, they came in a torrent.  It was easy to see there was something special going on, a fact confirmed by the transcendent Old Vic production of Bedroom Farce six or seven years later, and that it was mere critical snobbery that pinned the epithet “the English Neil Simon” on Ayckbourn when he was so much more interesting. In between these two, the television version of The Norman Conquests established Ayckbourn as a comic genius, innovative in his ideas of stagecraft and structure, playing loose as he did with time and with his uniquely particular way of revealing character not all at once but by degree, seeing them change as they moved through contrasting situations.

 

picture – How the Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn – Long Beach, CA 2010 – photo by Shashin DesaiThe true revelation of Ayckbourn’s talents began to be noticed just a few years ago when the playwright brought to New York his personally directed production of  Private Fears In Public Places – with his own company of actors – all the way from Scarborough, where he makes his home and runs his own theater. It was such a deep pleasure to see that nobody understood Ayckbourn better than Ayckbourn himself.  But, if the play’s beauties still seemed quintessentially British, that was quickly dispelled by the fact that the great Alain Resnais turned it into a quintessential French film, making it clear that, at heart, Ayckbourn’s world was indeed universal.

 

And the stunning London revival of The Norman Conquests, under the masterly and beautiful direction of Matthew Warchus, came to Broadway and finally, at an advanced age and after having written more than 70 plays, most of which have never crossed the waters, Alan Ayckbourn achieved the serious recognition that had eluded him for far too long. In a breathtakingly ironic turn of events, his star rose while the stature of Neil Simon, his American counterpart, was diminished (despite a production of Brighton Beach Memoirs that demonstrated Simon’s true and profound virtues as surely as The Norman Conquests did so for Ayckbourn).

 

picture – How the Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn – Long Beach, CA 2010 – photo by Shashin DesaiSo don’t be surprised that revivals of Ayckbourn’s early plays are becoming ubiquitous. It would be even more exciting if we could get the opportunity to see many of the works that were never produced in this country. Which brings us, at long last, to How The Other Half Loves. My suspicion is that those who have heaped accolades upon this version are reviewing the playwright’s new reputation and not the production at hand. It’s not that there is nothing to admire here, but that there is so little. Well, there is Stephen Gifford’s excellent set, which is really two separate living rooms colliding into one another. And though the play’s carpentry is all too transparent, the conceit of two couples, joined by an act of adultery, living in their own spaces but sharing the same stage, is neatly arranged, and the laughs do come once the mechanism is put into place. But it’s not driven, as it should be, by the human frailty of its characters, but rather by the demands of farce. And, with the exception of Gregory North as the cuckolded husband – who projects genuine desperation when he attempts to put the pieces of his discoveries together while remaining comically vibrant as an actor – too much of the acting is seriously below par; their accents come and go; their comic moments flounder because their characters are not fully defined. And the class differences, so important to a keen understanding of what matters to Ayckbourn, are de-emphasized to the point of not existing at all.

 

Even though How The Other Half Loves is early work, it is good early work and worthy of a serious revival. What they’ve got down in Long Beach is half-baked amateur theatrics in a million-dollar theater.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

photos by Shashin Desai

 

 
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