Ayckbourn’s “Bedroom Farce": Three Beds, Four Couples, No Sex

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When: Through Sept. 1

Where: Eclipse Theatre at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport


Info:(773) 935-6875; www.eclipsetheatre.com

Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

“If ‘S-E-X’ ever rears its head, close your eyes before you see the rest of it.”

That is the advice (sage or otherwise), passed down from a long-married woman to her troubled daughter-in-law in British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s “Bedroom Farce.” And it triggers a whole lot of laughter in the Eclipse Theatre production now at the Athenaeum Theatre, where a cast of eight, under the spot-on direction of Nick Sandys, plays every crazed and crazy note of relationship hell to perfection.

Ayckbourn’s comedy, written in 1975, as the “sexual revolution” was in full bloom, features three beds, each of which would be large enough to hold two people were it not for their their various neuroses, insecurities and distractions. But only after the entire romp has played itself out do you realize the biggest joke in the play is this: Despite all the sturm and drung, and all the wishful thinking and rumpled sheets, not a single act of sex, steamy or otherwise, has actually occurred.

In any case, it is a chilly evening-into-morning and we are in England (where, as one wag once proclaimed, “they confuse sex with plumbing.” Ernest (Brian Parry) and Delia (Donna Steele), are going out to dinner to celebrate their umpteenth anniversary at the usual restaurant. The tedium in their marriage is apparent (the two actors are divine), though each is still vaguely interested in sex with someone, even if it’s not the other and they settle for a late night snack in bed. Delia also tries to deal with the volatile, profoundly strained marriage of their wholly self-involved son, Trevor (Joe McCauley), and his somewhat damaged and unstable wife, Susannah (an ideally high-wired Nina O’Keefe).

Delia admits she preferred Trevor’s previous girlfriend, the far more independent, self-confident Jan (a winningly down-to-earth Sasha Gioppo) as a mate for her son. But it was not to be. And ironically enough, Jan has married yet another needy, self-involved fellow, Nick (Stephen Dale), who spends the whole play in bed, suffering from a back problem.

And then there is the young, playful, perhaps already bored-with-each-other couple — Kate (the adorable Emily Tate) and Malcolm (JP Pierson, who maintains a fine Scottish brogue). They throw a party at which Susannah catches Trevor kissing Jan. And this sends Susannah into a meltdown of such intensity that all their guests flee.

There is more — perhaps too much more — for while Ayckbourn has devised a wonderfully complex scenario, he keeps the hijinks going on longer than necessary. Nevertheless, this is one of those all too rare occasions when you find yourself laughing out loud at the nuttiness of it all, and at the human compulsion to turn short-term lust into long-term drudgery.

“Bedroom Farce” is the second of Eclipse’s three productions in a season dedicated entirely to the prolific Ayckbourn, who, to date, has written 77 plays that have been translated into 35 languages. Up next is the rarely produced “Haunting Julia,” running Oct. 31-Dec. 8, and directed by Kevin Hagan.

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