Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's 'Bedroom Farce' could use more punch
Hyper-prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn received some grief from critics for titling a play that isn’t really a farce “Bedroom Farce” - now being staged by Ann Arbor Civic Theatre - but even Ayckbourn’s initial working title for the play, “Bedroom Farce: A Comedy,” might not be the most apt title.
Yes, the play features tangled love plots, with one self-absorbed couple disrupting the lives of three others in sometimes comical ways. But during the course of the play’s two-hour run time, I didn’t find myself laughing all that often.
Perhaps that’s partly because, even for a comedy, the stakes feel low. Newly married couple Kate (Emily Caffery) and Malcolm (Morgan Brown) are throwing a housewarming party, and among the guests are feuding Trevor (Mario Merola) and Susannah (Molly Logue), as well as Jan (Ashley Davis), an old girlfriend of Trevor’s who’s left her back injury-suffering husband Nick (Jarrod Cassar) at home.
When left alone in Malcolm and Kate’s bedroom, Trevor and Jan end up kissing, only to be discovered by Susannah. Distraught, Susannah seeks help and advice from Trevor’s parents, Delia (Michelle Lewis Skrobot) and Ernest (Roger Kerson), who are just trying to go to bed, while Trevor disrupts Jan and Nick’s night to “make things right.” Kate and Malcolm, meanwhile, in the aftermath of a ruined party, share some tough truths with each other.
Because the play takes place in London in 1975, the actors ambitiously employ British accents, with mixed results. (In one case, an actor seemed to vacillate between an English accent and a Southern one.) And while Merola’s costume, paired with his roguish mane of hair, looked era-appropriate - as did Brown’s platform shoes, which unfortunately seemed to make walking difficult for the actor - other costume and hair choices gave the production a more contemporary look and feel.
Even so, I enjoyed Kerson’s sweetly funny take on Ernest. As a man consumed with worry about a broken gutter on the house, and as half of a perhaps too-comfortable couple that’s excited by the idea of eating sardines on toast in bed, Ernest desires are decidedly modest; yet because of his son’s high maintenance marriage, even those pleasures are denied him, and watching cheerful Kerson maintain a stiff upper lip while also registering his disappointments is one of the production’s pleasures.
Plus, the interplay between Kerson and Skrobot, as the long-married couple, and Brown and Caffery, as the frisky, goofy newlyweds, is also often enjoyable.
But the play's humor is strangely muted in A2CT’s production. Director Paul Bianchi establishes a good, quick-but-not-rushed pace, and he also nicely stages the kiss between Jan and Trevor; but the pivotal fight between Susannah and Trevor felt tentative and a bit stiff on opening night, as did some of the play’s intended moments of comedy. Plus, the script itself quickly establishes that the stolen kisses are ultimately a real threat to no couple except Trevor and Susannah, who - given the broad strokes of what we see and hear of them - might just be happier apart, frankly. So I found myself feeling more sad about the troubled couples' unhappiness with each other than amused by anything the characters did or said.
Rob Brown designed the production’s lighting, which meticulously guides the audience’s attention between (sometimes lightning quick) scenes. Sound designers Bob Skon and Dave Winkler have some fun designing a soundtrack for the play (though John Lennon’s “Woman” wasn’t released until 1980). Set designer Bianchi effectively solves the problem of staging three bedrooms on a thrust stage, and Bianchi and Alen Fyfe’s props generally serve the play well; the segmented walls of Kate and Malcolm’s raised, upstage bedroom, however, look labored.
In the end, “Bedroom Farce”’s actors have their lines and blocking down cold, the pacing is good, and the technical elements are generally sufficient. One of the reasons comedy is so notoriously hard, though, is that it often demands - in addition to these basics - a boldness I found wanting in “Farce.”