The major reasons to see Las Vegas Little Theatre’s “How the Other Half Loves” are Barbara King and Gary Lunn. She plays a well-heeled, well-spoken proper English woman who’s having an affair. He’s her often befuddled husband, the sort who goes about looking for a coat that he’s already wearing.
The two keep terrible secrets from one another, and, in less capable hands, an audience might wonder why they stay together. But the actors communicate the details of the relationship — the affection, the annoyances, the comforts. And that’s what makes the preposterous things that happen to them feel genuine.
Alan Ayckbourn’s 1971 Broadway drawing-room comedy has a clever conceit: Two families occupy the same stage space, even though it represents two separate dwellings. The plot turns are what you’d expect: mistaken identities, misunderstood motives, physical mayhem — all solved in the end by the power of romance.
The story description put me in the mood to laugh, but I left the theater wishing I’d laughed more. The second act, thanks in large part to director Rob Kastil’s superb pacing, is appropriately loony, but the first is slow and stuffed with one-liners that too often have little spark.
Too many performers make entrances that seem to announce, “I am going to be funny.” They don’t seem to trust that their characterizations will bring laughs. There’s a climactic moment when King’s character realizes her husband has no idea what is really going on. The payoff is King’s reaction. But Kastil stages the moment so that King’s back is to us. It goes by quickly, but it’s a major mistake, and it hints that Kastil isn’t on top of the material’s demands.
You can see, though, that John Pinelli, as a well-meaning but simple “commoner,” easily could be a major comic force. And Shawn Hackler, as the middle-class man who loves his wife as much as he loves to fight with her, is a likable, easy-going presence (which is a huge contrast to the intense work he often does for the Insurgo Movement Theatre). When the action grows thin, there’s always King and Lunn to watch, both of whom are marvels at fleshing out screwball temperaments.
Ron Lindblom gives us an elegant and rich set — superbly accented by jody Caley’s lighting — suggesting not only different classes of people, but different mindsets. The technical work gives the script an extra layer of logic and humor.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.REVIEW
What: “How the Other Half Loves”
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (through Jan. 25)
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive
Tickets: $19-$22 (362-7996)