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Beth Boulay plays Teresa Phillips and John Richardson is William Detweiler in Collaborative Theatre Project's 'How the Other Half Loves.' [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

Comedy explores middle-class marriage

“How the Other Half Loves,” now playing at Medford’s Collaborative Theatre Project, is a searing comedy about middle-class marriage, its depths, difficulties and triumphs.

It is the innovative brainchild of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn: Two distinct households occupy the same set simultaneously, and all sense of time is collapsed. If those concepts seem troublesome, don’t fret — the action becomes instantly clear, due to clever staging by director Susan Aversa-Orrego and the authenticity of the performances and precise comic timing of the clever cast.

It is the morning after the Fosters' wedding anniversary. They have been married for “God knows how many years.” The Fosters' home is organized and highly polished. Fiona prizes elegance and nurtures her distaste for children. Fiona forgot their anniversary and stayed out until 2 a.m., while husband Frank sat at home alone, drinking the celebratory bottle of champagne. Frank is politely not curious about her absence, but he tries to solve the mystery as time goes on.

Morning at the Phillips’ house features an exhausted wife, Teresa, coping with the messiness of her infant child. The house is casual and chaotic. Teresa, while not totally thrilled with motherhood, is locked in a struggle to get her life under control. While unable to keep house or feed her family, she tries to find a social cause that will give meaning to her life. Her husband, Bob, tells her, “If you’d stop worrying a minute about other people and start organizing this place, you’d be making a valuable contribution to world peace.” Bob copes with the situation through bar-hopping. Bob also has been out until 2 a.m.

Fiona and Bob, who are having a fling, invent alibis for their absences focusing on a third couple whom they hardly know, Mary and William Detweller, and their possible infidelities.

The three men work in the same corporate office. Frank Foster, the boss, relates to everyone as the efficient executive. William Detweller, the company accountant, fixes and measures everything. Bob, the trusted employee, massages his good humor and animalism with alcohol.

Things come to a head when both couples invite William and Mary to dinner. Poor Mary has catatonic shyness and is terrified of social engagements, and William urges her on.

“Did you take your pill?” William asks.

"Yes," Mary says.

“Good. Now you just have to be natural.”

“It’s just that I can never think of anything to say," Mary says.

As three suburban middle-class couples become more and more suspicious of multiple affairs in their midst, multiple theories arise, bringing suspicion, confusion and complete helter-skelter. Facades crumble, politeness disappears, and underlying passions emerge.

As the shenanigans increase, relationships are reduced to rubble. Frank (Chris Cunningham) realizes his disappointment in marriage and tells William, "We drive each other up the wall … I say to myself, it’s better than nothing. And the older you get, the better it is and the bigger the nothing."

Fiona (V. Simone Stewart), the lofty sophisticate, becomes socially embarrassed and is reduced to fury. William (John Richardson), Mr. Fix It, is consumed with jealousy over his wife, feels unjustly cheated — “Do you realize … the hours I’ve put into that woman?” — then turns to vengeance as he brandishes his wrench like a weapon.

Bob (Chun-Han Chou) and Teresa (Beth Boulay) cavort, wrestle and then turn their aggression into infatuation, flying off in a fit of passion, and Mary (Caitlyn Olson) gains composure and an apology from William for suspecting her of having an affair. She forgives.

“It’s difficult for him," she says. "He’s never been wrong before.”

Although some mysteries are never solved, life is somehow reexamined; change may be in the air. Frank and Fiona somehow recover their usual self-control and agree that, “It is a job well done.”

“How the Other Class Loves,” continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, March 9-11 and March 16-18, and 1:30 p.m. Sundays, March 12 and 19, in the new performing arts space in the Medford Center, Medford. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, and are available online at ctporegon.org, by calling 541-779-1055 or at the box office.

Evalyn Hansen is a freelance writer based in Ashland. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.

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