‘Tis summer, and quite often the theater gods (by which I mean theater directors and producers) decide that the hot season is the right season for presenting a comedy with middle- to upper-class British characters behaving badly. So, welcome to Florida Studio Theatre’s current show, The Cottage.
To FST’s credit, this work is not an old chestnut hauled out of the attic, but rather a newish work by actress-playwright Sandy Rustin—albeit one with pronounced debts to the master, Noel Coward, and set in the 1920s. The Cottage may have pretensions to being a comedy of manners in Coward’s style (a la Design for Living, Private Lives and Hay Fever), but it really ends up as more of a bedroom farce; it’s just that the antics we see take place in the living room of the aforesaid cottage.
That’s where the action rises in Rustin’s play, as Sylvia Van Kipness (Hanley Smith) luxuriates in the afterglow of her lovemaking with her once-a-year partner Beau (Greg Balla). Both are married to other people, but Sylvia has decided that now is the time to let their spouses know of their feelings so they can be together.
That’s a surprise to Beau, and there are more surprises in store, when those spouses, Marjorie (Tracie Lane) and Clarke (Drew Hirshfield), turn up. It seems there has been more than one dalliance going on. When the daffy Dierdre (Beau’s other lover, played by Anna Stefanic with comic abandon) shows up, too, amid talk of a long-ago suitor of Sylvia’s, those who’ve seen this type of thing before can predict exactly where the climax of Act I is headed.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun getting there, and after, too, as a gun, a pregnancy, plenty of wigs and cigs and an explosive comedy device that Coward would never have employed keep upping the ante. The cast, attractively attired in Abby Parker’s swanky costumes and getting physical all over Andrea Bechert’s appealing set (complete with gramophone, knickknacks and a looming portrait of a family matriarch), plays the often clever dialogue and the action to the hilt, under the direction of Jason Cannon.
The show’s timing is spot on, and each character is endowed with some trait or other to make them distinct, whether it’s Dierdre’s dumb but voluptuous bent, Clarke’s picky nerdiness (he’s an accountant) or Sylvia’s determined romanticism. While Rustin nudges the situations and reactions into a more contemporary style at times, paying a nod to a feminist approach, the players in The Cottage would really need to be more self aware for the piece to land with an impact beyond the immediate laughter. But, for summer audiences, those laughs will probably be enough.
The Cottage continues through Aug. 18 in the Gompertz Theatre; for tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.