Talented Cast Isn’t Enough for a Funny “Farce”
The title does not lie. Alan Ayckbourn’s 1975 play, “Bedroom Farce”, takes place entirely in the bedroom (three, to be exact) and comes with all the door-slamming, slapstick hijinks that a farce requires. But the play, now being performed nearly 40 years after its debut, has presumably lost its edge — and the talented cast at the Athenaeum Theatre is left to piece together nearly 2 ½ hours of amusing but dated material.
In each of the three bedrooms on stage, we meet a different couple. There’s Ernest (Brian Parry) and Delia (Donna Steele), the retirees who’ve been married long enough to consider snacking in bed quite naughty behavior. Then there’s Jan (Sasha Gioppo) and Nick (Stephen Dale), who — thanks to Nick’s back injury and constant complaining — are clearly reconsidering the “in sick and in health” caveat of their marriage vows. Malcolm (JP Pierson) and Kate (Emily Tate), on the other hand, share a relationship that still maintains a little quirky innocence. Despite having just bought a place — that last signifier of adulthood — they’re still hiding each other’s shoes and planning surprises.
All of these couples are bound by Trevor (Ernest and Delia’s son, played by Joe McCauley) and his wife, Susannah (Nina O’Keefe). The only couple who doesn’t have their own bedroom on Mike Winkelman’s remarkably efficient set is the only couple whose relationship goes beyond petty marital squabbles and into true relationship woes. Trevor is a childish and self-inflated prig, while Susannah is needy and unstable. Neither of them is aware of the havoc their crumbling marriage leaves in its wake. They ruin parties, cause trouble between other couples and show up unannounced at the homes of friends and family to air their grievances. Their characters are so deeply unhappy — and, nearing the end of the show, so deeply insufferable — that it’s hard to muster any sympathy. While McCauley and O’Keefe make the most of what they were given and are at times truly funny, such caricatures quickly become grating.
Unlike the script, the physical comedy translates a little easier, and “Bedroom Farce” is not lacking in the slapstick. One of the funnier scenes occurs when Nick tries to rescue a far-flung book from across the room without further injuring his back; Dale’s timing and comedic chops are spot-on.
Costume designer Rachel Lambert’s groovy duds do a great job of taking us back to the bell-bottomed era, and sound designer Morgan Lake’s music selections don’t hurt, either. The setting is clearly established, and it’s fun to think how risky this material might’ve been when it first debuted. But ultimately, Ackbourn’s play has aged — the hysterical has now become the merely amusing. And while a bit of vintage surely has its appeal, charm can only get a farce so far.
“Bedroom Farce” runs through Sunday, Sept. 1 at the Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport) on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22-$28 and are available online or by phone at 773-935-6875. For calendar information, please visit theatreinchicago.com.