Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June 2008

I am a pretty smart cookie. Not too much escapes me, particularly when I am sitting in the theatre, but for the life of me I cannot tell you the central joke of “How the Other Half Loves.” I like Alan Ayckbourn. I love a good farce. This shouldn’t be so hard to figure out, but I have puzzled and puzzled ‘til my puzzler is sore and I know I missed something.

Who were those people on the stage? (Not the actors, the characters.) What were they doing and why should I care? It seemed to me that people just randomly popped in and out of doors on a cluttered and confusing set for no apparent reason. Some of them had slept with others of them, and their spouses all got the wrong end of the stick and thought their significant others had slept with the people they hadn’t – suppositions they invariably confided to the very people their spouses HAD slept with…but where was the excitement, the titillation, the interest? It was all sadly missing the mark.

I am tempted to take the advice of Thumper’s father and plead the fifth on this one. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it. By leaving it all unsaid I think you get the general idea. This is a hopeless mess of a production, mounted with all the best of intentions, and a sad beginning to the Theater Barn’s 25th anniversary season.

In fact that anniversary provided all the fun of the evening on opening night. The Barn was festively decorated, champagne was flowing and the boards were groaning with tasty delights from New Lebanon’s finest eateries. Dozens of Theater Barn alumni had made a special trip to celebrate with producers Joan and Abe Phelps. When Joan took the stage for a curtain speech the entire audience stood up and cheered. After the final curtain had mercifully fallen on the on-stage debacle, son Allen Phelps delivered a heartfelt salute to his parents and all they had accomplished in 50 years of marriage and 25 years as theatre owners.

So this show wasn’t the best. I have personally attended many wonderful performances at the Theater Barn over the years and can vouch for the fact that they always strive to present quirky, quality entertainment for a bargain ($22 is the top ticket price.) As Dorothy Fields said “It's not where you start, it's where you finish, And you're gonna finish on top.” This season will pick up steam and finish just fine.

In fact, this show may do the same. I hope it does. There are some talented Theater Barn vets on the stage – John Philip Cromie, Brian Allard, Kathleen Carey (who, alas, is not a comedienne) – as well as newcomers with promise – Amanda McCallum, Jenna Doolittle, and Harry Vaughn (who has the talent to turn his face fire-engine red when flustered.) From what director (and Theater Barn artistic director) Michael Marotta said in his curtain speech, they had an exciting rehearsal period plagued with heat waves, hail storms, power outages, and ill-fitting shoes.

Maybe next time the shoe, er, show, will be a better fit.

How the Other Half Loves runs through June 22 at the Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission and is suitable for ages 10 and up. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2008

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