Review: How The Other Half Loves by City Theatre Company
by Michael Meigs

Alan Ayckbourn applies a clever staging twist of time and space in the first act of this contemporary English comedy of manners, and it is a delight to watch the City players accomplish it. 


How The Other Half Loves, as the title implies, is a satire of class and sexual mores.  I repeatedly mistyped that title in the ALT "images" feature for the production, because my fingers were finding their way back to How The Other Half Lives, the famous work of photojournalism by Jakob Riis, an 1890's exploration of the slums of New York City.  That's an additional little ironic note, for these two couples are separated far more by class habits than by economic well being. 


 Scot Friedman & L Martin (rear), Lori Z. Cordova & Derek Jones (photo: City Theatre)Frank Foster is the hapless, clueless university-graduate manager at an unidentified firm and Bob Phillips is his smugly lower-class subordinate.  The generic living room represents the snug little homes of each man and his wife.  Ayckborn's joke is that he runs separate actions simultaneously in the same space, with the couples unaware of one another's presence.  This is better than cinematic cross-cutting of scenes, for we're suddenly endowed with a sort of hallucinogenic X-ray vision, comparing the couples, their relationships and their games with one another -- for we rapidly understand that Foster's wife the nervy, nervous Fiona was out the previous evening for a spontaneous roll in the hay with yobbo subordinate Bob Phillips.  Phillips' wife Teresa is angry that he was out until 2 a.m. the previous evening and is avoiding her insistent questions about his whereabouts.

The Featherstones: Jenny Keto, Tyler Jones (photo: City Theatre) 

What do unfaithful spouses do, at least in a comedy of manners?  They lie.  Without coordinating their stories, each claims to have been lending a sympathetic shoulder to a Featherstone.  William Featherstone is that prissy fellow in accounting and Mary is his paralytically shy wife.  We see the deceivers unwittingly laying the trap for themselves:  Fiona assures her feckless Frank that poor Mary suffers from an unfaithful husband; Bob tells his glowering Teresa that poor William is devastated that Mary is having an affair. 


The liars' reward for their projection of their own transgressions onto the innocent is immediate.  Suddenly, through unexpected turns, those innocent Featherstones are invited to dinner with the Fosters on Thursday night and to dinner with the Phillips on Friday.  Ayckbourn's cheery nest of misunderstandings and space-warp gets even more mischievous -- we get to watch the two dinner parties develop in the same space in alternate time-stop action.  The result is a devilishly clever bit of plotting and some sparkling comedy.



(photo: City Theatre)

Ayckborn can't top that.  The second act is an unwinding of the complications, in relatively mechanical fashion.  The laughs are still there, but they depend more on our increasing understanding of the social and class differences.  It's a very English approach to comedy, employing some standard English types that you've probably seen with John Cleese, Monty Python and Rowan Atkinson.  In our all-middle-class America, the comedy has less bite; it's a bit more like going to the zoo to enjoy the antics at the monkey house.  But they're fine antics, nevertheless.


Director Stacey Glazer has assembled an excellent cast for this one.  They all inhabit the characters with confidence and credible accents.  Scot Friedman is entirely plausible as the dimly diffident Frank Foster, easily manipulated despite his notional authority as husband and manager, and Louise Martin has the patent falsity of the stereotypical middle-class suburbanite.  Opposite their careful, childless verbal relationship, the tumultuous relations of the Phillips couple surge on -- with reproaches, big emotions, the dilemmas of a frustrated mother and a pub-loving, sports-watching bloke.  Derek Phillips and Lori Z. Cordova are funny, full blooded and in everyone's face.


And the guest-victims, William and Mary Featherstone -- Tyler Jones gives us a pleasant, self-certain wimp, bewildered and ultimately indignant, while Jenny Keto is a darling China doll, scarcely able to get out a word (and yes, inevitably, the worm turns).


How The Other Half Loves has  fine comic rhythm and provides a lovely evening of light entertainment and laughter. 


Review by Barry Pineo for the Austin Chronicle, April 2


Review by webmaster at TheatreAustin, Yahoo Groups, April 8




Click to view program of How The Other Half Loves at City Theatre


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How The Other Half Loves
by Alan Ayckbourn
City Theatre Company

March 26 - April 12, 2015
City Theatre
3823 Airport Boulevard
Austin, TX, 78722

March - April, 2015

City Theatre Company, Austin