Alan Ayckbourn's 'Bedroom Farce' sees married life through four couples


Theatre on the Hill is about to offer audiences the chance to learn something by looking into other people's bedrooms. "Bedroom Farce" is an inside look at just about every stage of married life.

"I think people will see a little bit of themselves in each of these couples, and I think they will laugh," said Josh Selzer, director of the production that begins Thursday night at Western Maryland College's Alumni Hall. "While it has what you might see as a happy ending, things are still a bit askew. A lot of the play is about communication."

Or lack of it, which causes many of the problems for the four couples whose lives intermingle in this two-act play written by Alan Ayckbourn. In present-day England, the couples give the audience a peek into their marriages as they move about their bedrooms and prepare for their evening activities.

When the long-married Ernest and Delia prepare to celebrate their anniversary with a dinner, even the unmarried members of the audience will see how familiarity can breed contempt -- and lack of communication.

The couple has fallen into such a pattern that they no longer need to listen to each other. They simply play the husband and wife roles they have perfected over the years.

"They have been married a lot longer than the other couples, and they are still in love, but they have gotten into a steady routine," said Ray Ficca, who plays the absent-minded, but well-meaning Ernest. "I think that is where some of the obstacles [for them] come in, when the routine is interrupted."

Susan Thornton, who plays Delia, agrees.

"In her mind, she is always right, and she has a perception problem: She can twist almost anything to make herself seem right," Ms. Thornton said of her character. "And Ernest has learned not to argue with her. He knows it is pointless."

Role-playing has a large part in the relationship between Jan and Nick, the professional "yuppie-type" couple played by Laurie Schopp and Chris Patrick. Their careers have taken precedence over their marriage, and Jan in particular is feeling the strain.

Ironically, it is Nick's strained back that is the catalyst that brings their disagreements to a head.

"There's this stereotype that men revert back to childhood when zTC they are sick, and that's essentially what Nick does," Ms. Schopp explains. "To Jan, Nick seems selfish and childish, and she has had it with his antics."

"He acts like a child, and spends the entire play in bed," Mr. Patrick said. He said the character whines and complains, but never really talks to his wife.

"You see a lot of people in this play who don't communicate properly," Mr. Patrick said. "You have only one couple that really communicates with each other."

That would be the still-on-their-honeymoon Kate and Malcolm, the "cute and sexy" couple as they are described by their portrayers, Dara Ellen Breitkopf and James J. Waltz.

They play games and giggle as they plan to entertain guests at their housewarming party (they've just bought their first home). And unlike the other couples in this story, they talk to one another.

"They haven't been married very long and so they represent the new, in-love, untarnished couple," said Mr. Waltz.

"Yes, but they are also at the stage of the relationship where that part ends and they really have to learn to live with and love one another," Ms. Breitkopf added. "It's like they were living fantasy for a while, and now it's time for their real life to begin."

And then there's the bickering and sexually frustrated Trevor and Susannah, the only couple we don't see in their own bedroom. Sam Hancock and Jody Griffith described their characters as people "who need each other, but can't seem to get along anymore."

Susannah, whose need for daily affirmation is satisfied only by confidence-boosting chats with herself in a mirror, wants her husband to show a little affection and confidence in her; Trevor, seeing her behavior as whiny and irritating, doesn't listen to his wife.

Sound familiar?

"There are a lot of comedic bits, but there are some real tender moments, and some eye-opening ones, too," Mr. Selzer said. "That is very important because we want people to believe that these are real couples. "

Part of that believability comes from the relationships the actors have built with one another over the course of the summer. It is these relationships that add to the performances, Mr. Selzer said.

For example, in a scene where Ms. Breitkopf and Mr. Waltz are preparing for their party, she is wearing a bath towel and he is shirtless. Ms. Breitkopf acknowledges that having found a rapport with Mr. Waltz has made this potentially awkward scene more comfortable.

"It's good to have a small cast because you work with them a lot and you tend to get to know them very well," she said.

"Bedroom Farce" offers the viewer comedy and romance. And because it is set in three bedrooms, few roles are available. But, Mr. Selzer said, it also offers the audience a lesson about life and love.

"I guess, first and foremost, we want people to be entertained," Mr. Selzer said. "But perhaps we also want people to see what happens in relationships when you play games with each other, that maybe being straightforward with your partner is best."

Theatre on the Hill presents "Bedroom Farce" Thursday throug Saturday at 7 p.m., beginning July 20 at Alumni Hall at Western Maryland College. For more information, call 857-2448.

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