(photo credit: newport theatre arts Center- Emily MacAgy (Mary), Abel Garcia (William))
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
The Newport Theatre Arts Center is somewhat diminutive and is located on a hill overlooking part of Newport Beach. You would miss it if you weren’t actively looking for it or driving up the hills to see some nice houses. I’m here to tell you that How the Other Half Loves is definitely a play to be actively sought out and driving uphill for a few minutes will absolutely be time well spent. The acting is great almost all around; there’s a steady stream of humor with jokes landing pretty much every time, and the storyline keeps you fully invested in each individual character.
Once upon a time in the far-away era of 1974, two couples are in crisis. The Fosters are an older and wealthier couple who, despite being very skilled in the art of entertaining guests and socializing with the upper class, seem somewhat out of sync with each other. Mr. Foster babbles and loses things, and his wife –Mrs. Foster –is a tad exasperated with him. The problem is he doesn’t really seem to acknowledge this. The ever-bickering and always on-the-verge-of-violence Phillips couple are younger and much more in sync with each other because they are both on the same page. Mr. and Mrs. Phillips always know when they are angry with each other, and they both know exactly why. They are young parents constantly at their wits’ ends. Watching these two couples and how they parallel each other pulls us into a comedic mystery –not “Is there an affair going on?” but “What will happen when their spouses discover the truth?”
The value of the set is not so much in how it looks –which is fine –but in how it’s used. During the entirety of the play only two houses are visited. While the divide between the homes is not clear-cut at first, as time progresses it becomes pretty easy to tell where we are currently located. All across the stage from left to right we have a study, a living room, an entryway, a kitchen/dining room, and a mini bar. It’s perfectly adequate for the story’s purpose. As the plot progresses it quickly becomes noticeable that only certain performers go into certain parts of what appears to be one house, so it is clear which sections belong to which family. This is fine as far as storyline is concerned, but things are relatively uneventful until the arrival of a third couple —that is when the action is kicked up a notch.
If you can give this show ten to fifteen minutes to get the ball rolling, I promise your patience will eventually be rewarded. When the Detweilers join the Fosters and Phillips, it is gold. The three couples are onstage together at the same time but in different locations simultaneously, and– Oh darn it, I don’t want to ruin it for you. I will say the use of the Detweilers and how they interact with the different houses and people all at once is quite fun. It also helps that talented actors play both Detweilers. Mrs. Detweiler is portrayed by Emily MacAgy, and Mr. Detweiler is played by Abel Garcia, who is getting a special mention because you think he’s just this bland little suck up of no account, but then he loses his mind in a way that’s pure perfection. I cannot think of a single moment of Garcia’s that is anything beneath excellent. His character’s transition is just superb. I have to reiterate that most of the acting in this play is great, but the moment the Detweilers appear is when new life is breathed into the plot. I also find it necessary to mention Yvonne Robertson, who is just a delight. She plays the wealthy Mrs. Foster with just the right amount of fluster and stress yet possesses poise and grace when the situation calls for it. The way Robertson flits from moment to moment with her pleasant demeanor, which might at any moment be shattered by a discovery of circumstances, rather makes a person want to help her and then ask her for shopping advice. In Robertson’s biography it states that she specializes in British comedy and classics, and I must say, it shows.
There are some weaker moments. Gimmicky acting is never fun, and I can’t stand it when the actors “try too hard” to be funny. However, these gimmicky and stilted moments are infrequent enough in an otherwise brilliant story with spectacular acting, so they don’t do much damage.
How the Other Half Loves is well acted and well directed. The costumes are great (keep the fringes Mrs. Foster!); the jokes land beautifully, and the plot keeps you jumping.
Mar 31 – Apr 30 2017
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