Just a few weeks after Sam Shepard's semi-sibling lovers were bouncing off the walls in the Williamstown Theatre Festival revival of Fool For Love comes what appears to be the American premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's 1997 opposites-attract slugfest Things We Do For Love. This may be the only time you will ever read the names Sam Shepard and Alan Ayckbourn in the same paragraph.
Things We Do For Love ranks 51 in the Ayckbourn oeuvre, currently numbering 79 and counting. Many, if not the overwhelming majority of them, are variations on the theme of Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, Boy Meets Another Girl, and two things inevitably arise from this consistency of theme: Some are better than others, and not all of them will be produced beyond Ayckbourn's storied hometown theater in Scarborough, UK. John Tillinger, a farce expert who staged a Broadway revival of Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular for the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2005, shows his nimble touch in this Westport Country Playhouse production. You have a couple of more weeks to catch it.
Prim, meticulous Barbara (Geneva Carr, It's Complicated; Love And Other Drugs), having forsworn men (and sex) since a single school-days encounter, has rented her upstairs flat to flighty, flibbertigibberish dear friend (how that ever came to be is one of the play's mysteries) Nikki (Sarah Manton, Broadway's One Man, Two Guv'nors, The Coast Of Utopia). She and her fickle, roving-eyed fiancé Hamish (Matthew Greer, Broadway's Seminar and The Real Thing) are awaiting completion of their new home. Until her new tenants arrived, Barbara has mostly gotten by with the occasional handyman's assist from Gilbert (Michael Mastro, Broadway's Twelve Angry Men, Mamma Mia!), a sadsack postman who rents her basement apartment and carries a torch for her.
Sparks inevitably fly between the initially contentious Hamish and Babs, leading to flung undergarments, furtive mattress bouncing and two broken hearts, not to mention a lovers' quarrel that turns unsettlingly pugilistic. I'm not giving anything away; plot is hardly the point here. What matters is how deftly the repartee (not to mention the punches) is delivered by the quartet of actors and how a director can keep such matters light without it all reducing to piffle. On that score, Tillinger and his actors deliver pleasingly. I was especially taken with Carr's Maggie Smith-like diffidence concealing a molten interior, and Mastro's lumberingly, touchingly humane Gilbert, to whom fetishism comes as naturally as sleep.
The playwright describes a three-tiered set given primarily to the middle layer, Barbara's sitting room, with slitted views of the upstairs and below-stairs living quarters. James Noone's sleek design works exceptionally well for about half the Wesport audience.