Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
How the Other Half Loves
Odenbear Theatre's production of the 1970 British comedy by Alan Ayckbourn How the Other Half Loves is a delightand surprisingly relevant to the gender and class antagonisms that roil contemporary society. Ayckbourn, author of 81 plays, has won both the Olivier and Tony awards.
How the Other Half Loves is not an easy play to stage. The plot recounts the tribulations of three couples. One couple is middle aged, prosperous, upper class and genteel in the English manner. A second couple is rough, working class and young. The third couple socializes with the other two, attends dinner parties with both, and floats in and out of their houses.
The story transpires in the living rooms of two houses. The houses are linked by two phones, one chic and the other utilitarian, both prominently perched on a stool at center front stage. The two living rooms, with class-coded details of decor, are shown simultaneously on the stage, with characters entering and leaving, arguing and smooching, yelling and joking, fighting and knocking each other down in both houses at the same time. During one scene, two families host dinner parties on stage, with the trick that the dinner parties, although viewed simultaneously, actually occur on different nights.
It sounds like a bit of a mess, and in less able and experienced hands it probably could be. But Odenbear makes it work.
The comedy's success is due in no small part to three exceptionally experienced Taos residents. Jim Hatch is founder, Artistic Director and owner of Odenbear. A veteran teacher, director, producer and actor, he is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actors' Equity. He participated in the TV series "Better Call Saul" and "Longmire." Among his other tasks, he was in charge of set and lighting. Director Jane Ayles has taken charge of a number of plays not only for Odenbear but also Taos Onstage and The Space Theatre. Actor Joel Larson (as Frank Foster) studied with Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company and has worked in many branches of the entertainment industry as actor, director and producer, in Hollywood and Las Vegas, among other places.
However, the five less experienced members of the cast and the supporting staff contribute immeasurably. Linda Stokes (Frank Larson's wife Fiona Foster) has appeared in several Taos plays and is a soloist with the Taos Gospel Choir. Christopher Heron is Bob Phillips, the working-class husband, and Savannah Holden is Bob's wife Terry. The program notes that Holden "wandered into Taos in 2014 and hasn't been able to call anywhere else home since"an old New Mexico story.
The third couple the Featherstones are what make the plot work, upsetting the careful balance of class and gender that previously enabled the other two couples to navigate their lives on a relatively even keel. Nick Broder, a social worker, is making his first appearance on stage as William Featherstone. Sabina Jones (Mary Featherstone) is a senior at Taos High School. Both clearly have an acting future ahead of them.
Without giving away the convoluted plot, I can say that the story involves what may or may not be love affairs between various characters. False leads laid down by the characters misdirect not only each other but also the audience. Satire is ubiquitous and sometimes scathing in depicting gender roles of women and men. Although the play was written nearly half a century ago and takes place in southern England, much of it could have happened last night in Albuquerque.
How the Other Half Loves continues Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. through March 19, 2017. For information and tickets call 575-770-5591 or go to odenbeartheatre.com. The play is performed at the Metta Theatre, 1470 Paseo del Pueblo N, Taos NM, about 10 minutes north of the Taos Plaza.