Whole lotta screamin’ goin’ on, and it isn’t coming from the audience. In fact, the audience becomes quieter and quieter as the evening wears on. Not a good sign for what is supposed to be a rip-roaring comedy.
Sir Alan Ayckbourn has written 73 plays, so it stands to reason that not all of them can be smash hits. Even Neil Simon has a bad day once in a while. But I’m not sure if Ayckbourn’s 1975 play “Bedroom Farce,” now onstage at the Odyssey, should be blamed on him or the actors or the director.
Darcy Prevost has designed an interesting set — three distinctive bedrooms that reflect the personalities of the couples who inhabit them. From left to right they are Nick and Jan (Scott Roberts and Ann Noble), Malcolm and Kate (Jamie Donovan and Kate Hollinshead), and Ernest and Delia (Robert Mandan and Maggie Peach). And bouncing between them and creating havoc wherever they land are Trevor and Susannah (Anthony Michael Jones and Regina Peluso).
As the play begins, Malcolm and Kate are preparing for a housewarming party in their new flat. Jan is preparing to come, but without Nick, who is laid up with a back problem and whose dialogue consists almost exclusively of groans and plaintive wails of “Why me?” And Ernest and Delia, who are Trevor’s parents, are preparing to go to dinner to celebrate their umpteenth wedding anniversary.
Trevor and Susannah have a troubled marriage, which might be partially explained by the mantra that she repeats obsessively: “I’m attractive! And I’m not afraid of people!” When she and Trevor arrive at the party — separately — they begin fighting immediately, and so viciously that all the other party guests go home.
Trevor and Jan have had a previous relationship and they eventually wind up in an impulsive and passionate kiss that the consistently overwrought Susannah oversees. More screaming.
And so it goes. The play, ostensibly, is about how four different couples handle marriage, with Ernest and Delia, the elderly couple, providing the template for successful companionship. Delia is full of wisdom, giving her daughter-in-law Susannah pithy bits of advice, like “Don’t tell him anything you don’t have to,” and “Keep him well fed and his clothes clean.”
The play is too improbably farcical to be all that funny, but it might be more amusing if played well. The younger actors, however, are uniformly screechy, with everyone continually exhibiting unmodified hysteria. With a little less volume and more moderate pacing, more variety in delivery, the humor, such as it is, might have been better received. As it stands now, only Ernest and Delia and the bedridden Nick do justice to their roles. And, unfortunately, director Ron Bottitta doesn’t do justice to his.
And finally, you get a clue that there is something wrong with a comedy when the funniest things in it are the vintage 1970s outfits put together by costume designer Kathryn Poppen.
Alan Ayckbourn’s “Bedroom Farce” will continue at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd. in West Los Angeles, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sept. 26. Call (310) 477-2055 for reservations.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.