Pict Classic Theatre’s ‘Other Half Loves’ mixes heartache, high humor

By Deborah Weisberg, Trib Total Media

Daina Michelle Griffith and Philip Winters. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/ Trib Total Media

Daina Michelle Griffith and Philip Winters. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/ Trib Total Media

A laugh-out-loud farce about marriage, infidelity, class structure and social climbing will open Pict Classic Theatre’s 2015 Mainstage series May 28 at the Charity Randall Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial in Oakland.

“How the Other Half Loves,” a British comedy by Alan Ayckbourn, makes hilarity and sometimes heartache of the tangled lives of three couples — the men all work for the same firm — and a secret affair between one of the men, Bob Phillips, and his boss’s wife, Fiona Foster.

Set in 1971, the year the play premiered on Broadway, the action takes place in two homes simultaneously onstage, with separate dinner parties held concurrently at a table that straddles both gatherings.

William and Mary Detweiler — whom Foster and Phillips are using to cover their tracks — swivel on chairs between the parties.

“It’s incredibly clever staging — as if we’re watching parallel universes,” says Pict artistic and executive director Alan Stanford, who calls Ayckbourn’s play a classic farce that, despite its age, remains fresh and entertaining.

“The structure of a farce is that terrible things happen to other people, and we find it fun to watch,” he says. “This play is hysterically funny, and sometimes heart-wrenching.”

Infidelity is an eternally fascinating subject that playwrights have been exploring for centuries, he says.

“Marriage is an institution for all time, but it’s not without its difficulties,” Stanford says. “One purpose of theater is to look at them, sadly, wryly, and sometimes for belly laughs.”

The show follows Pict’s seasonal theme: A Place for Saints and Sinners.

“In the case of marital infidelity, it’s up to the audience to determine who are the saints and who are the sinners,” he says. “Of course, no one is just one or the other.”

Director Martin Giles calls the play a sex farce-plus.

“It’s a brilliant, sophisticated comedy,” Giles says. “One of the things Ayckbourn does better than your average comic playwright is he makes his characters real and complicated, which gives the play depth.”

The show’s six actors have worked together on other projects, so their chemistry is established, Giles says. That cast includes Tony Bingham, Gayle Pazerski, Karen Baum, James FitzGerald, Philip Winters and Daina Michelle Griffith.

Griffith says it was at the first read-through that she realized it was going to be fun, but not slapstick.

“Ayckbourn intended for the characters to be real people the audience can relate to,” Griffith says. “So, we’re not playing them like clowns.”

FitzGerald agrees the characters are “quirky but real, and sympathetic,” and that the play is not typical farce. “It’s not your door-slamming, people-walking-around-half-naked kind of farce. It’s very different,” he says. “It doesn’t resolve the way a typical farce would. It’s not a neat little package.”

And being a period piece adds amusing elements, Griffith points out.

“The rotary-dial phone has developed into its own comic bit because it takes so long to dial. A rotary phone wouldn’t have been funny back in 1969, but it is today.”

Giles says he’s enjoyed selecting pop music that captures the best and worst of that time.

“A lot of the songs are commentaries on the vagaries of romance,” he says. “People will recognize Carole King’s ‘It’s Too Late,’ from her ‘Tapestry’ album. The song that cracks me up is that one-hit wonder by Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds, ‘Don’t Pull Your Love Out on Me, Baby,’ really awful, but very much of that era.”

Deborah Weisberg is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.