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"THE COTTAGE:" SHAKEN AND STIRRED
I love brittle humor. I love repartee with a snap. I love chilled martinis briskly stirred. And, of course, Noel Coward plays. Not to mention P.G. Wodehouse (who must be mentioned.)
In honor of all this, I caught The Cottage recently, a lovely, extremely light, homage to Coward and Wodehouse and cigarettes carelessly smoked and stubbed. It was lots of fun, not because it was remotely up to Coward (who had unsuspected depths, by the way) or Wodehouse (who had dark, Fascist-leaning depths, as we now know), but rather because it was beneath both of them. Sniggering at Coward and Wodehouse knowingly, and sometimes unknowingly, The Cottage titters with affection and delirious disrespect.
The play was authored by Sandy Rustin, who is (per her website) “One of American Theatre's Top Produced Playwrights,” having primarily written, so far as I could see, The Cottage and a popular stage adaptation of the film of the board game Clue. Okay Sandy, if you say so.
What distinguished The Cottage, for me, was the comedically deft cast, and the savvy, daft direction by the estimable Jason Alexander, who certainly knows how to nail a visual or aural punchline (and needs no introduction). Taking Ms. Rustin’s by-the-numbers ramble through Cowardian drawing room comedy (said drawing room lushly realized here by set designer, Paul Tate dePoo III, who is not, so far as I know, named for a Wodehouse or Coward character) — Mr. Alexander has brought forth a very physical farce. The play is all the better for it.
The physicality of The Cottage is its strong suit. Sight gags and physical business, the more slapstick the better, make the show feel far more sophisticated than it actually is. It’s a wacky inversion, really. The dialogue is arch. The pratfalls often eloquently transcend that.
The pratfallists, in order of appearance, are all fabulously limber: Laura Bell Bundy, as Sylvia — “a lovely and rash romantic,” (according to Ms. Rustin’s script) — is engaged in a torrid affair with Eric McCormack (yes, Will of & Grace), as Beau, “perhaps the best-looking man in Britain.” Lilli Cooper, as Marjorie, Beau’s pregnant wife, is deep into her own affair with Alex Moffat, as Clarke; Sylvia’s husband and Beau’s brother. Dana Steingold, as the diminutive, yet anything-but-delicate, Dierdre, is also having an affair with Beau. Nehal Joshi, as her murderously jealous husband, Richard, is out for blood. Maybe.
It really doesn’t matter. The entire overplotted plot is just a linchpin for some swell light comedy and plenty of quite hefty physical abuse. The dazzlers, in all comedic manifestations, were Ms. Steingold, a relative unknown (to me), and Mr. Moffat, the SNL vet. Both appear to possess rubberized, boneless torsos and deliciously deadpan humor delivery systems. Moffat, in particular, is a staggeringly gifted stage comedian, who should be working on Broadway constantly, and would have, I am sure, had he lived in Coward’s time.
The N.Y. critics have generally been merciless to The Cottage. This seems to me a minor shame and a major over-massing of firepower. The show is silly fun. Take it or leave it.
I took it, with a twist.