Commonwealth Theater Company at Northern Kentucky University has opened a new dinner-and-show production of Bedroom Farce. It might be a labor of love on the part of cast and crew, but it's too labored in delivery to love very much.
Like most of the 50-plus farces Sir Alan Ayckbourn has produced in his long and ongoing career, this mid-1970s script is fraught with the devil's own challenges for a director and any gaggle of actors, especially non-British actors.
Characters are just barely rounded enough to dodge the charge of caricature. There are complicated plot tangles with little consequence and less dramatic imperative. There are satiric sallies at certain strata of British suburban middle-classedness that are not quite the same as our domestic varieties. And there's Ayckbourn's infinitely polished, intricately woven language — dialogue that must be timed and toned and spoken with the delicacy of brain surgery if the jokes are to provoke the merriment he intends.
A well-ordered production will surmount these difficulties and find the play's glossy magic. Further, it will mask the fact that Bedroom Farce isn't actually about anything and the people in it don't do anything intrinsically interesting. Director Mike King (NKU faculty) and his eight actors, a mix of NKU students and local stage veterans, show promise of meeting the Ayckbourn challenge in much of Act One.
Several scenes flow smoothly. And some of the jokes crackle from authoritative readings.
In one of the stodgy set's three bedrooms, Delia (Lesley Hitch) and Ernest (Jim Stump) frump along nicely, getting themselves together for an evening out. In another bedroom, Nick (George Alexander) suffers plaintively from a strained back, not best pleased that Jan (Rachel Elizabeth Perin) takes his pain less seriously than he is certain he deserves. In a third bedroom, Malcolm (Aaron Whitehead) and Kate (Jennifer Scott) ready themselves for the party they're pitching while poking at fractures appearing in their relationship. Ernest and Delia's exasperating son Trevor (Charlie Roetting) and his ditzy, ill-suited Susannah (Helen Anneliesa Raymond) scatter calamity.
After intermission things lose focus. Cohesion fizzles. In Act Two the scenes are much shorter. They need to gallop along with ends and beginnings lapping over into each other, providing comic counterpoint. But King and designer Ronald A. Shaw choose to isolate each scene, no matter how brief, plunking down a cross-fading period at the end of each.
People charge into each other's bedrooms, where they do and say outrageous things for outrageous reasons. Only polished, utterly charming performances and cohesive, breakneck momentum can make that seem more amusing than just flat irritating.
Among the actors, Stump, Alexander and Hitch come closest to capturing Ayckbourn's rhythms. Maybe that's age and experience. Stump manages a quite passable English accent, and Alexander can do a fine pout. Perin, Whitehead and Scott come less close to the precision demanded by farce. Ms. Raymond mostly screeches when she isn't repeating her "I am not unattractive" mantra. She doesn't sound any more convinced than the audience. Roetting's performance is more about odd behavior than it is about style — slow, posy quirks with oddly aimed stares and mid-word pauses.
Shaw's set looks like the work of a carpenter, not a designer. It's middle-class bedrooms look like furniture displays at Value City, with no lilt or tilt or any reflection of the play's comic nature in them.
BEDROOM FARCE, presented by Commonwealth Theatre Company at Northern Kentucky University, continues through June 29.