Theater Review: "How the Other Half Loves" at the Phoenix Theatre

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Through July 31 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), S.F. $35; 800-838-3006 or www.offbroadwaywest.org.

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Alan Ayckbourn's acidic, class-conscious 1969 comedy explores the collateral damage of an affair, leavening bitterness with laughter. The posh wife (Sylvia Kratins) of an absentminded executive (Jeff Garrett) carries on a tryst with his boorish employee (James Darbyshire), whose wary spouse (Corinne Proctor) has just begun wising up. When a mincing co-worker (Adam Simpson) and his own meek wife (Jocelyn Stringer) become the adulterers' unwitting alibi, what follows is a criss-crossing escalation of misunderstanding and mistrust, and standard-issue English dithering graduates to shouting and even some physical combat. In Off Broadway West's take, director Richard Harder has some lethargic introductory pacing to overcome, but eventually finds a solid balance between business and character. His cast, although unevenly skilled, shows a strong bond of common purpose. Yes, the social and sexual codes seem dated, but there is timeless satisfaction to be had from the precise gearwork of Ayckbourn's script — made manifest as much in the cast's collective timing as in Bert van Aalsburg's ambidextrous set, wherein two tables lock together as one for separate but simultaneous dinner parties.

 
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