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Bedroom Farce

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The best joke of Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce is the title, which conjures up images of spicy sex romps, slamming doors, and sublimely ridiculous misunderstandings, only to deliver on none of those things. Instead, it focuses on the mundanities of everyday life behind bedroom doors and finds its comedy in more true-to-life characters and their attempts to live sanely in the real world.

The downside of this is that everyone involved must invest twice as much effort to make the show work; no one can just rest on his or her laurels in hopes the comedy will come. Those involved with the new production of the play at the T. Schreiber Studio, all seem to have put a lot of hard work into their version of Bedroom Farce, but have met with only limited success.

The actors and the director must share responsibility for the generally underwhelming feeling of the production. The actors all come across as very mannered, very studied, and very articulate, yet bring few eccentricities to their roles. While Bedroom Farce isn't populated with archetypal characters to begin with, it benefits from the suggestion that the eight people it chronicles - who might put on very normal faces when dealing with the outside world - are very different people in their most personal and private of sanctuaries.

So, the play derives its plot and much of its humor from the chaos that ensues when one couple, Trevor and Susannah (Todd Reichart and Donna Abraham), begin addressing their very private grievances at a party being held by their friends Malcolm and Kate (David Shoup and Hillary Parker). Soon, Trevor's parents Delia and Ernest (Gwendolyn Brown and Ed Franklin) and other friends Nick and Jan (Morgan Foxworth and Allyson Ryan) become involved, and they all must eventually deal with the repercussions of making personal issues public.

As the play proceeds, it becomes obvious that these people may finally be learning which doors can safely be left open and which should be kept closed, one of Bedroom Farce's two significant connections with more traditionally farcical plays. The other is a rapid pace, an almost instantaneous transition from one joke, thought, or location to another. The audience can't be allowed time to catch its breath while eight lives are unraveling; it's funny when it's fast, but tragic when it's slow.

Yet that celerity is exactly what director Janis Powell's production lacks. Most everything is deliberately planned and considered, even down to the lights (by Peter Hoerburger), which tend to fade slowly on one area of the stage and come up about as slowly on another. While all three of the bedrooms Tal Goldin has designed share the same playing space, the seismic shifts of all sorts that should reverberate from wall to wall and keep energy high instead contribute to a feeling of wasted time, with transitions between moments that undercut the comedy of the events, like a production of Noises Off with all sliding glass doors.

The actors are all at least game, though Foxworth, whose character is suffering from a back problem confining him to bed for most of the show, and Reichart, as the wide-eyed, manic, and unpredictable Trevor, provide the most creatively engaging performances. The others all do acceptable work, but don't seem to have found their places of relevance in Ayckbourn's story. No character is really a background character, but most in this production feel like it.

Perhaps that's to be expected from a production that never completely pops into three-dimensional shape itself. While everyone deserves credit for finding as many laughs as they have from Ayckbourn's script, they're missing a significant number that can't adequately be captured in words. Those laughs truly make or break any comedy, and if this Bedroom Farce is not exactly broken, nor is it in perfect working order.

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T. Schreiber Studio
Bedroom Farce
Through December 7
T. Schreiber Studio, 151 West 26th Street, 7th floor, between 6th and 7th Avenues
Schedule and Tickets: 212.352.3101