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Phoenix
Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

The Cottage
Actors Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Cabaret and The Book Club Play


Angelica Howard, Joe Kremer and
Maren MacLean

One of the most impressive things about the new play The Cottage, receiving its Arizona premiere in a superb production from Actors Theatre, is that it was written by a modern American playwright yet exudes all of the wonderful elements of classic Nol Coward English drawing room comedies. This wickedly delicious comedy of manners is delivered by a superbly skilled ensemble of actors, with swift direction and terrific creative production aspects. What is even more impressive is that this cast is also appearing in the equally funny modern comedy The Book Club Play, in repertory through August in Actors Theatre's first Summer Season of Theatre program.

Playwright Sandy Rustin has crafted a play that is extremely entertaining but also has crisp, clear realistic dialogue of the period, razor sharp humor and hilarious situations. Inspired by the works of Coward, the play is dripping with comical circumstances and English upper crust sensibilities, it is humorous yet also full of heart. Actors Theatre has chosen wisely in how this 1920's English set play serves as a nice counterpart to their modern day, American set The Book Club Play, with each play running on alternating weekends.

It is 1923 and Sylvia and her lover Beau, who also happens to be her brother in law, are spending their annual romantic rendezvous at Beau's family's cottage. Tired of only having these once a year get-togethers for the past seven years, and unbeknownst to Beau, Sylvia has already sent telegrams to their spouses alerting them of their on-going tryst and letting them know they intend to leave their spouses and be together. Over the next ninety minutes Beau's brother Clarke and Beau's wife Marjorie will descend upon the cottage to confront the lovers as will Beau's other lover Dierdre and her jealous ex-husband Richard. To say any more of the plot will spoil the fun, but there are twists and turns galore with secrets revealed and plenty of laugh out loud moments sprinkled throughout the fast moving two act play.

As they demonstrated in The Book Club Play, the cast is a talented group of individuals who skillfully form a superb comic ensemble. Everything in The Cottage revolves around Sylvia and Maren Maclean couldn't be any better in the role. With comically expressive facial gestures and a sly, witty delivery of words, she wrings every comic moment and nuance from every line of dialogue and situation. Joseph Kremer's Beau, is equally impressive. Unlike his Book Club Play character, who is less educated and knowledgeable than the rest of the group, here he plays the intellectual lawyer, and has the appropriate demeanor and speech for the character. Kremer also has no problem portraying a classic and dashing ladies' man, full of pomp and swagger and wryly delivered statements.

Angelica Howland is a comic gem as Beau's very pregnant wife Marjorie. Howland's Marjorie is infused with proper English manners yet delivers charming sarcastic comments, though she never loses her temper with all of the craziness swirling around her. Like Maclean, she also uses her body for humor, including easily balancing her teacup on her pregnant belly and using just her enormous stomach, sans hands, to push open the door to the kitchen with ease. Tyler Eglen gives Clarke the typical qualities of the staunch Englishman who makes absurd and dry comments, but with a sweet, mannered disposition. Beau's other lover, Dierdre, is played by Alexis Green as charming and endearing, yet we easily see how she is also gullible and nave. Green is completely committed to the part which includes several instances of physical humor where she ends up laid out on the floor or spread out on pieces of furniture. Ian Christiansen instills Richard with a sweet disposition, yet cuts a nice menacing stature when required to portray the jealous lover.

As he equally achieved in The Book Club Play, director Matthew Wiener skillfully guides his cast into a well formed ensemble, ensuring they don't step on each other's lines, but deliver every comic line efficiently and imbue their characters with the charisma required for this appealing and hilarious farce. All six of the actors have also created realistic and rich English accents that are consistent throughout.

Creative elements are as fun and charming as the play with a set design by Jeff Thomson of a rustic yet colorful and sunny British cottage that exudes as much warmth as the characters. Lively costumes, by Lois K. Myers, are authentic to the 1920s period of the show and as flattering and impressive as the striking hair and make-up designs by Terre Steed. Combined with the bright, cheerful lighting by Tim Monson and Christopher Neumeyer's sound design that includes several well timed sound effects, including one moment of particular hilarity, there isn't one misstep in the creative aspects of this production.

Sandy Rustin has written a fun, fast paced comedy with razor sharp humor that shows people who are "stuck in the wrong marriages" and escalates into a rollicking farce when everything goes dreadfully wrong. But underneath, the play has a sweet sensibility that also comments on the subjects of marriage, sex, fate and, most importantly, love. I believe The Cottage will become a staple comedy all over the country; the Actors Theatre production has the perfect cast, direction and creative aspects to make it vibrant, hilarious and full of heart.

The Actors Theatre production of The Book Club Play runs through August 10th, 2014, at the Black Theatre Troupe/Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, at 1333 East Washington Street in downtown Phoenix. Tickets can be ordered at http://actorstheatrephx.org or by calling (602) 888-0368

Director: Matthew Wiener
Scenic Design: Jeff Thomson
Costume Design: Lois K. Myers
Lighting Design: Tim Monson
Sound Design: Christopher Neumeyer
Hair/Makeup Design: Terre Steed Stage Manager: Amy L. Gilbert

Cast (in order of appearance):
Sylvia: Maren Maclean*
Beau: Joseph Kremer
Marjorie: Angelica Howland
Clarke: Tyler Eglen
Deirdre: Alexis Green
Richard: Ian Christiansen*
*Member Actors Equity Association


Photo: John Groseclose

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix



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