Alarms & Excursions

Benny Hill-esque fragments from Michael Frayn's cutting-room floor

Michael Frayn's latest farce, after the dead-serious Copenhagen, is as shallow as it is witty. It starts like a simmering pot of water: Four middle-class Londoners are trying to have a dinner party, but various household gadgets interrupt the conversation. There's the incomprehensible bottle opener, the overly sophisticated home telephone system, the maddening, buzzing oven, and a mysterious machine that goes "chink." (Never mind the car alarm, the burglar alarm, and the doorbell.) Once the routine boils over, though, the entire show starts to cool. Other skits that are just as light but never as funny involve four Londoners on a tedious holiday, or three Londoners misunderstanding each other at a loud Christmas party, or two married Londoners trying to retrieve a German guest from the airport. Jennifer Wagner and Lee Ann Manley are both strong as the women, growing irritated for various reasons at their husbands, and John Oswald and Adam Ludwig also do well as the jaunty men, but Søren Oliver's direction falls slack when it's most needed, especially in the Christmas-party skit. Even worse, nothing holds the skits together -- they could be fragments Frayn has swept up from his cutting-room floor -- and the married-middle-class humor is worthy of a Benny Hill rerun.

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