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'How the Other Half Loves' at Collaborative Theatre

Playwright Alan Ayckbourn plays with space and time as he overlaps dialogue and set designs of two separate households in his romantic comedy "How the Other Half Loves."

This witty, wacky play set in New York City features a composite set of two overlaid city flats — where we meet the posh, sophisticated Foster family and the messy, middle-class Phillipses. Frank Foster is an executive manager; Bob Phillips is a junior executive trying to get ahead in the same company.

The story follows three couples — Fiona and Frank Foster, Bob and Teresa Phillips and William and Mary Detweiler — and the misunderstandings caused by Fiona Foster and Bob Phillips as they cover their affair by using an innocent third party: the Detweilers.

Frank and Fiona share a polite, distant and evasive relationship — in stark contrast to the torrid emotions between Bob and Teresa. When Frank asks Fiona where she has been, she lies and says she's been comforting Mary, who believes William is having an affair. Bob tells Teresa he's been with William, who believes Mary is having an affair. Neither adulterer realizes they have implicated both the Detweilers in their alibis. 

As things spiral out of out of control, Ayckbourn's hysterical dinner scene in Act I deteriorates into a drunken brawl in one household and a stuffy dinner party in the other — at the same time.

At the Fosters, the Detweilers are treated to a polite and banal evening, with William desperately trying to impress Frank in the hope of a promotion. At the Phillipses, the couple attempt to be a calming influence on Bob and Teresa’s fiery relationship, but are dragged into a destructive and physical argument. All the Detweilers’ efforts are doomed to failure as their dinner hosts suspect both of sexual indiscretions. At the climax of the disastrous evenings, William is accidentally doused with soup thrown by Teresa at Bob and finds himself sitting beneath a leak from the Fosters’ upstairs toilet.

Directed by Susan Aversa-Orrego, the Collaborative Theatre Project production features Beth Boulay, Chun-Han Chou, V. Simone Stewart, Chris Cunningham, Caitlyn Olson and John Richardson.

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 3-4, Thursdays through Saturdays, March 9-11 and March 16-18, and 1:30 p.m. Sundays, March 5, 12 and 19, in the new performing arts space in the Medford Center, Medford. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, and are available online at ctporegon.org, by calling 541 779-1055 or at the box office.

The show was written for Ayckbourn’s theater company in the United Kingdom and subsequently revised for American audiences. In the original New York production, Phil Silvers portrayed the fumbling Frank Foster, and references to American cities and locales replaced the British ones. CTP’s production utilizes the American-based script.

When rehearsals began, says director Aversa-Orrego in a press release, there were initial questions from the cast members regarding the portrayal of the women dominated by men, particularly as the play was written and performed in the '70s. As the rehearsal process continued, it was affirmed that there are still double standards, and the issues raised in the script are relevant today.

As the play progresses, the weaker women find the strength to stand up to their domineering husbands. The woman who appears the most manipulative (Fiona Foster) realizes that she has deeply hurt the one who loves her the most.

Sound design is by Mike Kunkel, lighting design by Michael Demi Demaree, and set design is by Nicolas Jules Hewitt. Paintings and prints by Phoenix artist Catie Faryl will be displayed in the theater's gallery entrance.

Beth Boulay plays Teresa Phillips and John Richardson is William Detweiler in Collaborative Theatre Project's 'How the Other Half Loves.' [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]