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'Other Half' Is a Case of Putting on Errors

August 31, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Dyed-in-the-wool Alan Ayckbourn fans, who like their comedy high and intelligent, will be disappointed in Ken Rugg's staging of his "How the Other Half Loves" at the Long Beach Playhouse.

Many people wonder why high comedy seems to have disappeared in the theater world. It hasn't. Even Noel Coward was thrilled at his fellow Brit's emergence in the '60s for the rarefied style of his work.

In many ways, Ayckbourn's writing is like Coward's. If a word is altered, the rhythms are lost, and if--Coward's own be^te noir--too much business is thrown in, the whole thing falls apart.

All these things are particularly noticeable in Rugg's staging. Added to the fact that high comedy is only funny when played dead seriously, Rugg misses the boat altogether. He has his company doing funny walks, mugging, overacting outrageously and being just downright foolish, as when two female characters are arguing and imitate cats growling and clawing at each other. Rugg has one character almost doing pirouettes while waiting for directions to the loo.

Rugg also chooses to set the action in the United States, adding American references, which is even sillier. The dialogue is written in British rhythms, and great dollops of Ayckbourn's regional humor are lost. Imagine Coward's "Private Lives" set in Bakersfield.

The plot, with the action taking place in two living rooms simultaneously, concerns three couples: bumbling boss Frank Foster (Richard Meese) and his wife, Fiona (Danielle Desmond); tippling employee Bob Phillips (Randy Bowden) and his wife, Teresa (Kelly A. Herman); and about-to-be-promoted clerk William Detweiler (Darren P. Reagan) and his wife, Mary (Alexandra Hoover).

Careless rumors about affairs abound--only one is true--and the resulting confusion is the core of Ayckbourn's jest. The meat of it is his tight, often witty dialogue.

Rugg seemingly doesn't think the plot or the dialogue is funny enough, so he's added all manner of shtick to save the evening. He has only accomplished its downfall.

At moments, the cast shows itself easily capable of carrying off Ayckbourn's intent, but directorial distortions and self-indulgences creep in too often. One wonders why Rugg doesn't trust Ayckbourn's brilliant talent.

* "How the Other Half Loves," Long Beach Playhouse Main Stage, 5021 E. Anaheim St. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees Sept. 8 and 15, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 21. $10. (310) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

"How the Other Half Loves,"

Danielle Desmond: Fiona Foster

Kelly A. Herman: Teresa Phillips

Richard Meese: Frank Foster

Randy Bowden: Bob Phillips

Darren P. Reagan: William Detweiler

Alexandra Hoover: Mary Detweiler

A Long Beach Playhouse production of Alan Ayckbourn's comedy. Directed by Ken Rugg. Scenic design: John H. Nokes. Lighting design: Chad Brook. Stage manager: Jules Christian.

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