Things We Do for Love
Also see Fred's review of Woody Sez
What goes on in London (could be the present day) is that Barbara (Geneva Carr), owner of this building, needs to quickly clean and prepare an upstairs flat. Her former quite-good friend Nikki (Sarah Manton) is arriving and will stay for a bit with her fiance. The prospective home elsewhere which is being readied for Nikki and Hamish (Matthew Greer) is not quite available for occupancy. Gilbert (Michael Mastro) is attempting to fix a flawed radiator on that upper third floor. Otherwise, Gilbert, initially nondescript and generously helpful, happens to be a postman who lives in the basement of the house. He seems to be a basic, decent individual.
Perky Nikki comes in and contends, right off, that she is fat and, naturally, she is not. Barbara and Nikki chat a bit and everyone learns that Nikki's former husband pummeled her while Barbara is not all that sexually experienced. Nikki is genuinely concerned that Barbara is truly unhappy. Hamish enters, a well-built Scotsman and a vegetarian. Barbara, who is vocally opinionated about everything, expresses her displeasure. In short, Hamish hates her.
The brands of humor are, in no particular order, wry/dry British and, increasingly, boldphysically demonstrative. All such a production needs is one audience member with a boisterously distinctive laugh to entice everyone else, and the enthusiastic opening night crowd benefitted greatly from the guy sitting in Row E center!
Director John Tillinger has helmed several Ayckbourns at Westport and his familiarity with the playwright is one of his assets. The actors must move quickly, vertically, sometimes horizontally, and precisely. All of this is accomplished without any cumbersome hitches.
James Noone, set designer, bequeaths three living spaces. The bottom floor, which cannot be seen at all by many theatergoers, is Gilbert's pad. At first he seems completely innocuous but one learns that Gilbert has been painting a picture of a naked Barbara; what is more, his place is filled with clothing she once wore and he is taken to wearing it. Call this a kinky crush.
Barbara and Hamish, their mutually loathing having been so-stated, are opposites who are repellent. They might as well be allergic to one another. In a reversal, they cannot possibly resist one another and, before the first act concludes, enjoy a partially viewable (upper floor) sexy tangle while Nikki is completely unaware. Barbara was nicknamed Spike when she and Nikki, a dozen or so years earlier, were in school together. Call the Hamish/Barbara attraction spiky. That would perfectly characterize this lustful hook-up.
All four of these performers are top line and each is clearly coached to "act out" when need be. Ayckbourn begs for those who are disciplined but also able to release at key moments.
Others contributing to the success of this diverting romp are costumer Laurie Churba Kohn and fight director Robert Westley. The tune, "The Things We Do for Love," emerged from Great Britain during the mid-1970s and sound designer Scott Killian smartly delivers this number of times during the show.
In all, Things We Do for Love is droll and witty. Tune in for aggressive smashing as Barbara and Hamish grapple with one another. The first act is lengthy and the second just 50 minutes. If it were possible to edit the final portion, that would be favorable. This splendid Ayckbourn includes one small scene too many as the very last moments feel anti-climactic (of course, so to speak).
Things We Do for Love continues at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut through September 7th, 2014. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit westportplayhouse.org.
- Fred Sokol