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Regional Reviews: San Diego

How the Other Half Loves
North Coast Repertory Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see David's review of Noises Off and Bill's review of The Wanderers

Jacquelyn Ritz, James Newcomb, and Benjamin Cole
Photo by Aaron Rumley
Many of Sir Alan Ayckbourn's plays continue to be produced because his scripts are witty and creative works of theatre. Throughout his still-active career, Ayckbourn has never liked to simplify long-lasting marriages and relationships. His 1969 comedy, however, How the Other Half Loves, takes on a taboo subject, infidelity, and he plays the topic for mostly lighthearted laughs. Rather than try and modernize the story, Geoffrey Sherman sets his North Coast Repertory Theatre production in 1960s England. Despite the fact that it was written for an earlier generation, Ayckbourn's dialogue is still effective today.

When the show begins, audiences watch a normal day in the lives of two married couples. Frank and Fiona Foster (James Newcomb and Jacquelyn Ritz) seem to share a somewhat decent relationship, while Frank's employee Bob Phillips and his wife Teresa (Associate Artistic Director Christopher M. Williams and Sharon Rietkerk) are almost always at odds with each other. What Frank and Teresa don't realize is that Bob and Fiona are actually having an affair. Fearing they will be exposed, Bob and Fiona decide to come up with a lie that involves another employee of Frank's, William Featherstone (Director of Theatre School Education and Outreach, Benjamin Cole), being unfaithful to his wife Mary (Noelle Marion). The big fib starts to potentially backfire when William and Mary are invited to have separate dinners with the Fosters and the Phillips.

Ayckbourn's script largely consists of conversations among the central couples. All three pairs lack strong bonds, and he creates a great deal of enjoyment because of the disagreements and misunderstandings that occur. Aside from the obvious issues with the Fosters and the Phillips, it turns out that William is a controlling husband who treats Mary like a child. Sometimes, Ayckbourn does try too hard to showcase the parallels between the Fosters and Phillips by highlighting similar situations occurring to them. Even so, he keeps audiences in suspense as to whether Frank and Teresa will ever find out about the secret liaison.

Sherman respects the playwright's decision to use only one set to represent the Fosters and Phillips' living rooms. His choice will probably catch some audience members off guard, as the performers freely walk around different parts of Marty Burnett's finely detailed set. After a couple of minutes, most should be able to follow all the situations happening at the two households. One scene that highlights Ayckbourn and Sherman's strengths as storytellers is an extensive sequence involving the Featherstones' dinners in the main living rooms. Ayckbourn and Sherman cleverly go back and forth between the meals, which results in a very funny scene. Further enhancing the plot are Elisa Benzoni's costumes and Aaron Rumley's audio. Without being too self-aware, both Benzoni's clothing and Rumley's song choices, particularly from The Beatles, are true to the spirit of '60s culture.

The six performers have distinctive presences, which helps since they all play very different kinds of characters. Newcomb is naively hilarious as the absentminded Frank, while Williams is simultaneously humorous and detestable playing the self-centered Bob. As the central wives in the play, Ritz is charmingly manipulative as Fiona and Rietkerk brings an entertainingly aggravated comic style to her portrayal of Teresa. As the Featherstones become important to the plot, Cole and Marion are amusingly awkward as William and Mary get involved with the increasingly unusual event. Regarding the Featherstones, there are a few aspects about their roles that may be uncomfortable for some to watch in this day and age.

Mary is treated as a woman who isn't taken seriously by the others. Both William and Bob say and do demeaning things toward her that don't work today on either a dramatic or comedic level. Bob doesn't always treat Teresa with respect either, yet Ayckbourn makes her an internally strong and powerful person. I occasionally felt very uncomfortable seeing how most of the other men acted toward Mary, especially during discussions about potential physical abuse. She is the only character that isn't always given the same depth as the others.

Since the evening in Solana Beach is about an extramarital affair, How the Other Half Loves may not be an ideal show for a first date. Everyone else, though, should have a good time with Ayckbourn's smartly comical and relevant story.

How the Other Half Loves, through May 13, 2018, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D., Solana Beach CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $42.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 1-858-481-1055.