Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 sex comedy boasts a variety of riotously farcical situations, droll dialogue and hilarious, yet believable characters. However, like many of Ayckbourn's plays, at the piece's core, the underlying themes of heartbreak, midlife disappointment and greed suggest a much darker work teetering on a razor's edge of despair. Boorish, but wealthy bucket- manufacturing tycoon Roland (Marty Ryan, nicely smug) plots to purchase a rundown Victorian mansion to please his trophy bride, Elizabeth (the splendidly kittenlike Melanie Lora). But when Roland arrives home to find that Elizabeth has packed her bags and fled, he drinks himself into oblivion, forcing his nebbish lawyer, Tristam (Jonathan Runyan), to spend the night in the spooky house. Complications ensue when Elizabeth returns home, and, in the dark, mistakes a snoozing Tristam for her horny husband. The visual gimmick behind Ayckbourn's comedy is that, although the play is set on three floors of a mansion, all the action takes place on the same stage level, with the actors moving amongst each other, without connecting with each other. It's a gag that tires fairly quickly, and co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi quite rightly underplay the wearisome gimmick in favor of emphasizing the play's more adroit character-driven comedy. A few cavils: The British dialects are haphazard, which inevitably causes some of the performers to bypass some layers of irony. Still, the ensemble work is mostly deft, with Hoff's bloated pig of a husband, Lora's selfish and flighty wife, and Runyan's innocent waif lawyer being wonderfully vivid, three-dimensional, and unexpectedly dark characterizations. Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 22. (310) 477-2055.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 25, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Jan. 24. Continues through March 22, 2009