photo by Joan Marcus
If you don’t keep your eyes fixed on the stage at The Hayes Theater at all times during “The Cottage,” you are likely to miss some of the show’s most humorous moments. That was my problem as I glanced down to take some quick notes.
The play, set in 1923 and evocative of Noel Coward, is heavy on visual humor, many jokes involving cigarettes. “The Cottage” is about infidelity and love. Beau “perhaps the best looking man in Britain” (well-played by Eric McCormack ) has spent one passionate evening with Sylvia (Laura Bell Bundy ) each year for seven years. Much to his surprise, this year she has decided to send a telegram to her husband, announcing that she is leaving him.Now she and Beau can begin their new life together. As the comedy continues, she learns that her husband has been having his own affair and Beau has been cheating on her with another lover, Dierdre, described by Beau as naive and the playwright as a ‘nincompoop.”
Not surprisingly, all the characters will converge at the cottage located in the countryside in England in 1923. The stunning set designed by Paul Tate dePoo III is sumptuously decorated with ornate items and paintings, many of which are mined for humor during the course of the comedy.
Deftly directed by Jason Alexander, skilled at comic delivery himself, the play is fast-paced and the timing of the performers is perfect.The story line by playwright Sandy Rustin is thin and the relationships of the characters are convoluted. Alex Moffatt (of SNL) as Sylvia’s husband, provides a great deal of physical humor. Lilli Cooper is Beau’s very pregnant wife who, despite her gravitas, has an hysterical scene involving flatulence.
There are recurring jokes in the comedy like moments of silence as the family members gaze at the portrait of the mother that overlooks the room. Almost predictably, Beau’s other lover Dierdre (Dana Steingold), who says she doesn’t drink, will drink too much. Despite the ‘revelations' in the play, especially as to the true nature of Richard (Nehal Joshi) Dierdre’s murderous husband, there really are very few surprises at all.
Rustin has her characters ponder the nature of love, and, on occasion, in a profound moment, it is Dierdre who delivers wise pronouncements and the others marvel at her unexpected wisdom. She determines that love is like the degrees on a thermometer. However, these moments actually bog the play down as does the ‘unexpected” ending. Sylvia, the flighty romantic, we met at the beginning has a new outlook on life and a different path to follow.
“The Cottage” would have worked better as simply an outright farcical comedy with no attempt at seriousness. It is fast-paced with props used very cleverly to create humor. That by itself would have worked without a nod to female independence and the few introspective moments.But to each his own and one friend, a true theater lover, saw the play days after I did. In his text to me, he noted that he was ‘still laughing.” Obviously, the show was a hit with him.
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