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Nobody writes contemporary sex farces better than the British, and no British comic playwright concocts livelier boudoir free-for-alls than Sir Alan Ayckbourn (Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, and A Chorus of Disapproval).
The title pun of How the Other Half Loves, currently entertaining Raleigh Little Theatre patrons, pokes fun at adultery in general and the class system in particular. This 1969 comedy is vintage Ayckbourn — transposed to White Plains, New York, circa 1971, for the comedy's March 22, 1971 opening on Broadway.
The setup is simple: A single adulterous affair links three unhappy middle-aged couples otherwise divided by class. But How the Other Half Loves has an inspired gimmick: its unit set skillfully subdivides the stage, so that happenings in the living rooms of the Fosters and the Phillipses are seen and heard simultaneously. Thus, the playwright can interweave action and conversations that actually take place miles apart — and sometimes even on different nights.
One half of the adulterous duo whose dangerous liaison fuels the fun is bored and neglected society matron Fiona Foster (Amy Flynn); the other half is junior executive on the make Bob Phillips (David McClutchey). Their clandestine romance is complicated, first, by the fact that Phillips works for Foster's husband, Frank (Rob Jenkins) and, second, by the fact that both Bob and Fiona and Bob use another (entirely unsuspecting) couple — William and Mary Detweiler (Jack Prather and Adrienne Morton) — as their alibis whenever they tryst. Detweiler is another junior executive: an accountant and the office oddball at Foster's firm, and a would-be handyman at home. Sparks begin to fly when all three couples start comparing notes.
Rob Jenkins is a veritable picture of pomposity as absent-minded Frank Foster, a real stuffed shirt of a boss with his patrician nose so high in the air that he cannot smell the rat in his own marital bed. (Jenkins' demeanor in several jogging sequences — while prancing in place — is worth the price of admission.) Amy Flynn is delightful as a wealthy wife whose reckless slumming with her husband's subordinate is one sordid secret that may not stay secret much longer.
David McClutchey demonstrates a fine flair for comedy during his impassioned portrayal of Bob Phillips, the handsome office Casanova who may finally have met his match. And Tracey Phillips provides the perfect foil for McClutchey. Her impish impersonation of increasingly suspicious domestic drudge Teresa Phillips is a real winner.
Jack Prather is very funny as William Detweiler, the utterly oblivious butt of joke after joke; and Adrienne Morton is hoot as poor, mousy Mary Detweiler, who unexpectedly finds herself labeled the "other woman" in a torrid affair that she did not even know was already under way.
RLT guest director Kevin Ferguson superbly orchestrates the monkey business of How the Other Half Loves. Set designer Rick Young expertly interweaves pertinent portions of the two living rooms in which the play's action unfolds, costume designer Vicki Olson outfits the cast in a nice array of period fashions, and lighting designer Neil Williamson expertly plies his craft. And sound designer Ed Bodell and props designer Jim Bates also do their best to make How the Other Half Loves a must-see comedy.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents How the Other Half Loves Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 12-15 and 19-22, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 16 and 23, at 3 p.m. in RLT's Cantey V. Sutton Main-Stage Theater, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $19 Friday-Saturday, $17 Thursday and Sunday, and $13 Wednesday, except $11 Sunday for students and seniors and $5 Thursday Night Rush (You must buy tickets the day of the performance). 919/821-3111. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/other.htm [inactive 6/04]. The Alan Ayckbourn Resource Guide: http://www.alanayckbourn.net/ [inactive 6/04]. Note 1: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows. Note 2: RLT will provide audio description of the Nov. 16 matinee performance.