Eva Knott 4:04 a.m., May 23
Though often compared, Neil Simon and Alan Ayckbourn have little in common. Simon's zinging one-liners urge his audiences to embrace the status quo: that everything outside the box is either farce or infested with reptilian meanies. While Ayckbourn, with geometric choreography, provides an ongoing response to Simon: the farce, Ayckbourn says repeatedly, is inside the box.
Simon and Ayckbourn do have one thing in common. They write with such compulsive precision their plays are hard to perform. Go with their rhythms and the comedy unfolds. The laughs come in sets of three; scenes bloom with boffo climaxes. But replace them with a homemade tempo, and you'll stagger around the stage like a drunk.
Scripps Ranch's How the Other Half Loves does an impressive thing. It makes Ayckbourn's two-ring circus look easy to do — as if it's natural to have two stories told on the same set: one about a struggling middle class couple, the Phillipses (she feeds him a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast) and the well-to-do Fosters. They have all the classy amenities but only go through the motions of marriage. In fact, Fiona Foster and Bob Phillips are having an affair.
When the phone rings on Brian Redfern's set, at once elegant and tacky, the caller and receiver stand in the same room.
If the title refers to social class, then the play shows economic halves. But if it refers to Ayckbourn's complications, it misleads, since he introduces a third couple, the Featherstones. They're so innocent, they're barely social. But the others believe them capable of all the philandering in the world. The playwright could have titled it How the Other Thirds Love.
Director Jim Caputo and his cast serve this difficult play beautifully (one example: actors are supposed to cross the stage oblivious to actors on the "other" set; not once, the night I caught the show, did an actor betray the intricacy of these moves). Susan Clausen Andrews and Eric Poppick (as the upper-crust Fosters), DeNae Steele and Neil McDonald (the at-each-other's throat Phillipses), and Maelyn Gandola and Adam Daniel (the mousy, quivering Featherstones) show no social class has a lock on how to bungle a marriage.
Pictured: Alan Ayckbourn Image source: bbc.co.uk