IF YOU GO
What: Alan Ayckbourn comedy about couples in the mid-1970s
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through Feb. 25
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Cost: $40 & $45
Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Free parking across the street
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Florida Repertory Theatre went back - way back - to the groovy 1970s for their latest offering, Alan Ayckbourn play "Bedroom Farce." Audiences get four couples, three bedrooms, one giant party and endless possibilities for entertainment. Set the lava lamp for laughs - and dive in.
"Bedroom Farce," one of the prolific English writer's many plays (76 at last count) follows four couples during a disastrous house-warming party. A tripartite set peeks into three bedrooms in three different houses. It ran for 276 performances on Broadway and was nominated for five Tony Awards in 1979. Florida Rep produced another Ayckbourn comedy, "Relatively Speaking," in 2010.
Here's the plot. Malcolm (an energetic, trying awfully hard Jason Parrish) and Kate (an effervescent Amy Hutchins) are having a party. Jan (a sparkling, snarky Michelle Damato) leaves grumpy, sick-in-bed husband (a truly funny Brad DePlanche) home recuperating to attend. Trevor (a goofy Eric Mendenhall) arrives before angry wife Susannah (Brandy Zarle). Across town, Trevor's parents (Chris Clavelli and Carrie Lund) prepare for a night on the town.
All this goes down in Ray Recht's trio of eclectic 1970s-decorated bedroom sets wedged across the Florida Rep stage. Cabbage roses for the parents to the left (you'll be amazed at who ends up sharing the bed there!). Mod patterns, lava lamps and a much-slammed door at Malcolm and Kate's at the center, with Jan and Nick's sedate pad (more bedroom bonanzas there) to the right.
Unfortunately, while the show is titled "Bedroom Farce," it never reaches the heights of farce. Ayckbourn twists himself in knots to make the one-note characters interesting (young lovers Malcolm and Kate hide saucepans in the bedclothes?) and it comes off forced. The gentle pitter-patter just doesn't come across as that funny.
Director Robert Cacioppo tries to pump up the show, but the material often just doesn't have another gear to go to. Florida Rep's cast of professionals gives everything they've got - but the characters come across as unlikable idiots - and boring ones at that. If you're a fan of Britcoms, think the more sedate "Keeping Up Appearance" as opposed to the riotous "Are You Being Served?"
Locking the action into three separate spaces means any one slice is only as interesting as the characters therein - and none of these people are necessarily folks you want to get locked in an elevator with.
A plodding first half doesn't get untracked until most of the characters meet. Then, a few ill-timed kisses lead to a sundering of the guests and a reasonably amusing battle staged with a lamp and toilet plunger. Tears, cups of tea and Malcolm's inability to cope with a screwdriver follow in the more amusing second half.
Although DePlanche remains stuck in bed for the entire show (except when he's rolling around screaming on the carpet), he and Damato inject the most bounce into the relatively inert show. Watching him grunt and squeal after dropping a book on the floor (his character has a "bad back") brings some of the night's first laughs. When the tiny Damato tries to lever him onto the bed - and only succeeds in dumping him on top of her - the audience breaks into gales of laughter.
Eric Mendenhall makes for the world's worst party guest as entirely self-absorbed Trevor. Whether blithely ignoring the fact that Kate isn't fully dressed or making a pass at Jan, he's the friend you cross the street to ignore. You might hate the character, but admire the perfect droopy-faced, sad-sack creation.
Roberta Malcolm finds - somewhere - some of the most unprepossessing Seventies fashions ever to grace a stage. That's a compliment, by the way. Mendenhall looks for all the world like a giant elf in a maroon and orange outfit that emphasizes his height (and manchild emotional development). Love his goofy socks though. Brandy Zarle, as the equally batty Susannah (two bottles of wine, minimum, just to get through any lunch with this girl!), gets an emerald green pant and vest combo that defies description.
Looking for silly evening? There are worse options, even though the word "farce" in the title is a great misnomer. Look for Mendenhall's goofy Trevor, Zarle's whirlwind guest-from-hell Susannah or DePlanche's snarling, piteous Nick. And thank your lucky stars that we left those fashions far behind.