Bedroom Farce, produced by Ron Sossi for Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, opens July 24; plays Thur.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., either 2 or 7 pm (Wed., 8 pm, only 7/28, 8/22, 9/26); through Sept. 26. Tickets: $25-$30 (discounts for seniors, students, union members). “Pay-What-You-Can” (min. $5) performances July 22, 23, 28, Aug. 12 & 22. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; 310.477.2055 or odysseytheatre.com.
“Four couples, three bedrooms, two celebrations, one blazing argument and an illicit kiss (or two). Alan Ayckbourn’s ingenious comedy shines a brilliant spotlight onto the trials and tribulations of suburban marriage.” That’s how the press release describes the play being directed by Ron Bottitta at the Odyssey Theatre, opening July 24. It is Ayckbourn’s 19th of over 74 full-length plays. It premiered in London in 1975 and has been playing somewhere ever since.
Bottitta, whose directing credits include Joe at Rogue Machine where he hosts the “Rant and Rave” literary series, agrees Ayckbourn is probably the theatre’s most prolific playwright. He says Bedroom Farce is “one of his earliest and most pure, or least gimmicky maybe. It recently had a very successful revival in the West End.” However, he did not choose Farce for the Odyssey. “I think Ron Sossi did,” he says. “I stepped in to direct after Barry Phillips had a scheduling conflict.”
As an actor, Bottitta has appeared in over 70 productions including eight at the Odyssey, most recently in The Arsonists. He has not directed Ayckbourn before but acted in four of his plays: Communicating Doors (Odyssey 2002), How the Other Half Loves (Odyssey 2007) as well as Absurd Person Singular and, “in my ever more distant youth, Bedroom Farce,” he says.
Is he approaching the play with a different slant than when he acted in it? Bottitta says, “It’s hard to take a ‘different slant’ on it other than playing out the sounds in my particular head. I’m from a little town on the outskirts of London, a place that was entirely populated by Ayckbourn characters. I grew up in the ’70s, listening and learning from the voices of the people around me trying to deal with life’s little challenges.”
Will this cast have English accents? “Accents?” he repeats. “These characters have accents? Not to me. If they mispronounce a word, I shout at them. But it’s more about embracing the mundaneness of an outwardly and, actually, inwardly boring culture and getting the idiom and the operative words right. Get the fear, confusion and ineptitude of the character and the accent will surely follow.”
The ensemble consists of Jamie Donovan (Malcolm), Kate Hollinshead (Kate), Anthony Michael Jones (Trevor), Robert Mandan (Ernest), Ann Noble (Jan), Maggie Peach (Delia), Regina Peluso (Susannah) and Scott Roberts (Nick).
Three actors have done Ayckbourn previously. Roberts says, “I had the pleasure of being in the cast of How the Other Half Loves at the Odyssey. Ron, our director, was also a hysterical part of that cast. After nearly dying of laughter watching him on stage each night, I knew we would be in good hands with him directing Bedroom Farce.”
Hollinshead: “I have been in Living Together and the Odyssey’s How the Other Half Loves. I adore Alan Ayckbourn and have been a huge fan of his throughout my career, seeing and reading many of his plays. One of my very favourites is Sugar Daddies.”
Peach: “I did Absurd Person Singular many moons ago at the Odyssey, directed by Ron Sossi himself. I particularly respond to Ayckbourn’s rhythmical patterns, perhaps because they are so familiar to me. I love the tempo of the script and find it very challenging to bring these characters to life and still make them real people and not caricatures of themselves.”
Noble: “Ayckbourn walks that fantastic line that most writers of farce do, between high comedy and real drama. However, he has a style all his very own, quite different from say Alan Bennett or Michael Frayn or any of the other brilliant British writers, so it has its own challenges, the most difficult of which is to walk that line. When you’re on, it’s wonderful; when you’re off…it’s like root canal.”
Mandan: “I find Ayckbourn a bit more realistic than other English farces.”
Jones: “I know this Ayckbourn play is, as I believe Ron Sossi said, deceptively complicated. Other plays claim they are but this truly is. It’s like a freakin’ frustrating exhilarating brain teaser with comedy which is always a challenge. At least for me.”
Peluso: “This style of play takes a lot of work for the whole ensemble. Every part carries equal weight and the mechanics of Ayckbourn’s brilliant writing need to be examined in specific detail which I find different from other works. It is first rate comedy writing.”
Roberts: “The challenging part of being in an Ayckbourn play is embracing his rhythms and almost frenetic pace while at the same time staying true to what’s at stake in the characters’ relationships. You have to think faster because they are so quick-witted. And the action within one scene and between scenes builds and bounces back and forth in series of crescendos. So, it’s a thrilling ride for actors and audience.”
Hollinshead: “Ayckbourn plays are always fabulously fun-filled with real people in life’s bittersweet absurd moments. It’s a riot and a joy to be a part of this ensemble piece. It’s a constant roller coaster of ups and downs.”
Donovan: “I am finding it a completely different working experience from other playwrights. I can’t put my finger on exactly why that is right now; perhaps at the end of the run, I’ll be able to pinpoint why that is… I certainly hope so.”
Describe your character in Bedroom Farce.
Roberts: “Nick and Jan are probably the most centered and capable couple in the play, but the great fun in playing Nick is experiencing his breakdown both physically and emotionally over the course of the play. And it may be one of the only roles where I’m in bed for an entire show – without any chance of ever getting some sleep.”
Noble: “Jan’s unfortunate behavior at a party sets the whole lot of characters in a tizzy. She is described as ‘beautifully normal’ which is rather exciting for me to play as I usually play much quirkier even broader characters. Jan is pretty straightforward and that is sometimes more challenging than playing a character who is more ‘out there’ if you will. She’s, of course, rather witty, which is always delightful and she’s full of love which is harder than it looks to play.”
Peluso: “It is so great to be a part of a cast that is half British, being that I’m from the Midwest. I play the role of Susannah, the crazy trouble maker. She is a very emotionally demanding role and just as challenging as she is fun to play.”
Jones: “Trevor and Susannah are that couple who just sucks the life from their friends’ marrow. I think most people know a couple or have a friend like that but for some reason you can’t shake them because there is something redeeming or lovable about them. The thing I love about Trevor is that he is forever childlike and is always trying to get it right. He wants to show and tell his friends that whether they want to know or not. Mostly not. His heart is in the right place; he’s just clueless as to people around him so he inevitably gets to mess with them and disrupt their lives without doing any real damage. He also thinks he’s very interesting.”
Donovan: “Malcolm is eager to please everyone, including his wife Kate. Their house warming party and the events which spring from it bring his world crumbling down around him, leaving the illusion of ‘love’s young dream’ in pieces, which I’m not sure he has the right tools to put back together again, just like Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall. I’m enjoying the process of seeing how far is too far in exploring this character.”
Hollinshead: “I am playing Kate the wife of Malcolm, the young in love and truly devoted newlyweds. Throughout the play she questions her identity and out of her honesty she creates a strain on their relationship but through their innocence they find forgiveness and companionship.”
Peach: “I love Delia because she allows me to access the bossy part of my nature and to have fun with it. The challenge is to allow her also to be lovable and vulnerable. She’s such an in-charge person and yet she can be unnerved, as you see when she is confronted with her quirky daughter in law.”
Mandan: “Ernest is the dingbat of the family, overrun by his wife and children, striving to keep himself on track. Actually, everything in his life is falling apart, symbolized, it seems to me, by the crises with the house – rain is getting in somewhere, gutters are falling apart, heating system isn’t working properly. Then, crazy people descend upon his little private kingdom. Hard to keep his head above water.”
Noble: “I am delighted to be working with this cast and Ron Bottitta. There is a bunch of first rate Brits on this show, which helps us ‘Americans’ along the way!”
What would Bottitta like audiences to gain from seeing this production? He says, “I want a spectator to this bay window onto the incredible resilience of the Human Spirit to walk away hushed into a reverend and awed silence, and to refuse to rule out Pilchards next time they’re planning a late-night snack.” And if people have seen this play before, “I hope they won’t tell the person seated next to them the ending.”
How is the “Rant and Rave” series going? “Spectacularly,” Bottitta says. “It’s gone from an in-house, quasi-masturbatory soiree to an evening of art all the family can enjoy, provided you’re not related to the LA Fire Marshall. I love listening to all the pieces and I love getting to host it, especially since a) it’s a lot easier than directing, b) there’s free beer involved, and c) it makes me feel less of a loser that Rogue Machine is five blocks from my house.”
Feature image of Robert Mandan and Maggie Peach by Ron Sossi.
Article by Lee Melville.