My favorite art project growing up was a two-way photo that my art teacher called an “accordion picture.”
The accordion base was a sheet of paper folded like a fan. We took two different pictures, cut them into neat vertical strips and then pasted them to the base in an alternating design. The result was magic: when you looked from the left you saw one image, and the other when you looked to the right. From the front you saw only a confusing jumble.
Upon walking into the Quogue Community Hall to see Alan Ayckbourn’s “How The Other Half Loves,” this memory of my childhood art project struck me. The set was my accordion picture. It looked like someone took two houses, sawed them in two, and went to town.
Teresa Phillips, a disheveled housewife played by the perfectly sarcastic Jessica Ellwood, and Fiona Foster, a prim and proper woman played by the elegant Rosemary Cline, start the show with their morning routine. The audience quickly realizes that while they appear to be in the same room they are in fact in their own homes, passing closely by but not noticing one another as though they exist in parallel dimensions.
The set, brilliantly designed by Sean Marbury, showed the juxtaposition of their two worlds. Half of the bookcase overflowed with toys, clutter and dust while the other was neatly lined with leather-bound novels, brass bookends and not a speck of dirt. Green sections of wall and frumpy furniture filled the Phillips’s humble abode, while blue walls and a Victorian love seat fit Ms. Foster’s definition of taste.
The two women’s husbands enter in similar fashion. Bob Phillips, played by Jonathan Holtzman, stumbles in with an icepack pressed to his forehead to aid in overcoming a wicked hangover. Frank Foster, a successful businessman played with charming naiveté by Andrew Botsford, jogs into the room wearing his Harvard sweatshirt. The two glide gracefully around each other; their worlds separate yet visually intertwined.
That is until Fiona gives Bob a call, revealing their secret love affair.
In an effort to hide their infidelities, they use a third couple, the Detweilers, to cover their tracks. Bob names his officemate William, played by Mark McCarthy, as his alibi, and Fiona claims she has been spending time with Mary, William’s mousy and socially inept wife, played by Jane Cortney.
Act I culminates in a hilarious stop-motion dinner sequence, my favorite scene of the show. The Detweilers have been invited to dine with the Foster family on Thursday evening, and with the Phillipses on Friday.
Instead of showing each dinner separately, we see the actors cut back and forth with a fluidity that film editors would envy. Sitting at the dinner table, we see the Fosters in the front chairs, the Detweilers in the middle and Teresa Phillips anchoring the troupe at the head of the table.
During Friday’s dinner Teresa freezes with a wide, wine-induced grin. And on Thursday’s dinner, Fiona and Frank stop mid-bite and mid-glare. When Bob finally shows up to his dinner an hour late (though all he missed was the air-freshener infused soup) the freeze-frame fight scene between him and Teresa sets the room into hysterics.
Summing up the debacle that was dinner, Teresa says, “Please don’t mind me, I’ll just get drunk.”
Director Diana Marbury took what could have been a very confusing show and made it easy to understand and the comedy was not lost in the mix. Though a bit slow at first, once the cast found its rhythm, it flowed nicely through the end.
I thoroughly enjoyed the chemistry between William and Mary, particularly as he struggled to properly socialize and train his wife. But it was Mr. Botsford’s portrayal of Frank that exemplified how important it is to know how your other half is loving.
And, oh the dinner scene. See this show for that scene alone if nothing else. It contained all the best things: comedic timing, body control with all of the freezing, and my favorite meal—wine.
“How The Other Half Loves” stages at the Quogue Community Hall through June 9, on Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors (except Saturday) and $10 for students under 21. Special dinner theater packages are also being offered. For additional information, or to make reservations, visit hamptontheater.org or call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111.