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HART's British import offers sex, class and humor

Comedy plays with time and space in its sets and scenes


by: COURTESY PHOTO - Dennis Kujawa, formerly of Forest Grove, in HARTs How the Other Half Loves.Three couples and two living rooms superimposed on one set makes HART Theatre's new production, “How the Other Half Loves,” a visual feast and a challenge for its actors and viewers.

Written by one of England's most prolific playwrights, Alan Ayckbourn, this bedroom farce was created to explore the distortion of time and space, which is just the sort of play Dan Kroon was looking for as his first show as a director.

The show opens at HART Theatre in Hillsboro on Friday and runs through March 3.

Like Ayckbourn's other comedies, the play is about interactions related to sex and social class in modern English society. It also attempts to break down a basic human relationship: marriage.

A single set presents two separate over-lapping living rooms, allowing dinner parties in different homes and on different evenings to happen simultaneously. Hailing from the British upper crust, the Fosters are hosting a dinner party in their refined home while the middle-class Phillips host in a shabbier space.

The fun begins when Bob Phillips has an affair with Fiona Foster and the two must invent a quick alibi for a late night out together. The alibi goes wrong. Another couple gets involved and finally a third — the Featherstones — and the well-meaning efforts of Fiona's clueless husband, Frank, to straighten matters out leads to chaos, misunderstandings, a fight and a black eye.

Kroon says the play was very popular when it premiered in 1970 in London. “British audiences don't look down on infidelity as Americans do,” said Kroon, who has performed as an actor in HART's "Blithe Spirit" and occasionally acts at Theatre in the Grove. “They find it more humorous.”

Though the comedy's playwright later wrote an American version of the script that was turned into a Broadway production, Kroon decided to go with the British version simply because the dry British wit and accents make it funnier, he said.

The differences in social classes also speak to the way each couple reacts to situations, said Kroon, where the upper class keep their emotions cool, distant and polite, the others are violently raw.

With all six characters acting on stage at once but not necessarily interacting with each other, the play can start out a bit confusing for the audience. Even the cast was confused. Kroon started rehearsals early.

“The challenge was to make sure the audience is aware that they are in two different spaces at the same time,” he said.

The simultaneous, separated scenes and sets pose unusual challenges. Some actors had a tough time trying to keep a straight face as they were unable to react to another actor sitting nearby who might be doing something mildly hilarious, Kroon said. “They had a lot of fun with this.”

He expects the audience will too.



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