NY Times Review: ‘The Cottage’ in Northport Is a Saucy Farce

N.Y. / REGION | ARTS | NORTHPORT

 

By AILEEN JACOBSON AUG. 8, 2015

“The Cottage,” a saucy farce about infidelity set in 1923 England, was written — contrary to any expectations that description might conjure — very recently by Sandy Rustin, a young American playwright who lives in Maplewood, N.J. Compounding its lack of British pedigree, the play was first produced at the Astoria Performing Arts Center in 2013 before spawning regional productions in Colorado, Massachusetts and Arizona. In 2014, the Astoria production enjoyed another run in the borough where it had its world premiere, this time at Queens Theater in the Park.

The play was “inspired by the works of Noël Coward,” according to the website of the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, where the comedy is now running, complete with onstage tea sipping and the frequent tossing around of words like “darling” and “fetching” in plummy BBC accents.
By all rights, “The Cottage” should have been a cutesy one-joke gimmick. But this laugh-out-loud bit of fluff manages to maintain a bubbly mood throughout increasingly absurd plot twists. Nearly all the elements, including mannered acting styles, are intentionally exaggerated. After all, it’s not easy sending up Coward classics like “Private Lives” and “Blithe Spirit,” which are themselves sendups of romantic comedies. B T McNicholl, the director, working with the associate director, Jennifer Werner, has done an impressive job of finely calibrating the production’s tongue-in-cheek tone so that it’s emphatic but not shrill.

As the play begins, Sylvia (a 1,000-watt Rachel Pickup), wearing a slinky negligee ensemble, is practicing alluring poses with which to greet the man with whom she has just spent the night. When Beau (Henry Clarke, more reserved) appears, they agree they’ve had “wild sex.” They’ve been doing it once a year for the past seven years, since both are married to others. This time, though, Sylvia wants to make it more permanent and has sent telegrams to his wife, Marjorie (a droll Christiane Noll), and her husband, Clarke (Jamie LaVerdiere), revealing their affair and their location.

The spouses show up, of course, and are joined later by two other characters, an effervescent younger woman named Dierdre (Lilly Tobin) and her former husband, Richard (Brian Sgambati). All the actors do justice to their roles.

To reveal more about the plot would be a disservice. The play’s humor relies heavily on surprises, which are comedic even when you see them coming. A pregnancy, a gun, a disguise and a prolonged episode of flatulence figure in the action. British upper-crust manners are also a target, as characters most likely in distress still politely comment on the “lovely cottage” and Beau’s “smart robe.” Strangely, the house in which they meet, designed by Jonathan Collins, is wood paneled and looks more like a lodge than a country cottage. However, Tristan Raines’s costumes and other design aspects are spot on.

Not that there is anything wrong with a play that is a bauble, but this one could benefit from a bit more serious underpinning, perhaps addressing more fully (but subtly) the Coward quotation printed in the program, which says that it is “discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

The play’s mocking approach, by the way, owes as much to Oscar Wilde as to Noël Coward. (Indeed, hanging on a wall is a portrait that supposedly shows Beau’s deceased mother but is actually a somewhat altered photograph of Brian Bedford playing Lady Bracknell in Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” on Broadway.) Bringing the total running time to 90 minutes by omitting the intermission might be another improvement. But really, for an airy night out on a summer eve, “The Cottage” is fine as is.

“The Cottage” continues through Sept. 6 at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main Street. Information: engemantheater.com or 631-261-2900.

The Northport Daily News: Welcome to The Cottage: British romantic farce opens at the Engeman Theater

Cupid’s arrows go uproariously astray in Sandy Rustin’s “The Cottage,” a farcical comedy of romance, manners, and sex (but not necessarily in that order!),  which inaugurates the John W. Engeman Theater’s  2015-2016 season.

Set in the early 1920s, the action takes place in a cozy family hideaway nestled in the English countryside far from the madding crowd of London.

It’s morning and negligee-clad Sylvia (Rachel Pickup) and Beau (Henry Clarke) are basking in the afterglow of a night of love in this idyllic setting. Surprise of surprises,  the pair have been indulging in “unwifely” sex and the riskiest, friskiest variety at that.  Sylvia is actually married to Beau’s brother, Clarke. Oh dear!  The couple has been bucking convention for one night a year for seven years without detection.

But the bubble  is about to burst on their unwedded bliss.  Unbeknownst to Beau,  Sylvia has   decided to end  the marital charade by sending  telegrams to both Clarke and Beau’s wife, Marjorie,  filling them in on the history of infidelity so that she can have Beau for herself once and for all.

It’s enough to blow the rafters off the cottage.

Sylvia’s impetuous decision ignites a hilarious and sometimes surprising sequence of arrivals: Marjorie (Christiane Noll),  Clarke (Jamie Laverdiere), Dierdre (Lilly Tobin), and Richard ( Brian Sgambati). I won’t spoil the fun by telling you about the roles these last two characters play, but every time there’s a knock at the door, you will wonder who is showing up for tea and crumpets….. or scotch. In fact, one of the funniest scenes occurs when one of the stars literally drinks herself under the table.

Written in the tongue and cheek style of the famed Noël Coward, the rapid fire repartee takes off on a dizzying pace and you will almost need a scorecard to keep track of who’s been with whom.  I should also say that the British comedies sometimes indulge their audiences with some naughty humor and “The Cottage” is no exception.

Rachel Pickup, an actress experienced in Shakespearean theater who has enlivened many a London stage, is a delight as the fetching, free-spirited Sylvia.  Henry Clarke, who is also boasts an equally extensive Shakespearean resume, is her match as the debonair lover who would have preferred to maintain the status quo.

Jamie Laverdiere has appeared on Broadway in ‘The Producers’ and in the national tour of ‘Urinetown’ and ‘A Chorus Line,’ and Christiane Noll,  who boasts an extensive resume of Broadway credits and tours, perfectly complete the dysfunctional family picture.

Both Brian Sgambati and Lilly Tobin succeed in upping the ante with their hilarious antics and surprises.

A British comedy of this genre requires split-second timing, and the cast,  under the direction of BT McNicholl, delivers it.  Kudos to Wojcik/Seay Casting for their choices which were spot-on.

The ‘cottage’ designed by the incomparable Jonathan Collins– which theatergoers admired before the show even began– is a work of art. An abundance of burnished wood,  a muted color palette and distressed floor all attest to the fact that this is a structure that has stood the test of time. We glimpse some of the weathered exterior of the cottage at the edges of the interior.  Trelliswork laden with colorful flowers convey the beauty of the surrounding meadows. Kudos to props designer Eric Reynolds for upping the cottage’s charm with just the right assortment of knickknacks, flower pots and ferns peeking out hanging baskets.

I also have to compliment Tristan Raines for outstanding costumes which suited both the period and each character.

‘The Cottage’ runs through September 6.  The Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport Village. Tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office, by calling (631) 261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com.

Times Beacon Record Review: Humor abounds as ‘The Cottage’ comes to Northport’s Engeman Arts & Entertainment

Humor abounds as ‘The Cottage’ comes to Northport’s Engeman

Henry Clarke & Rachel Pickup in a scene from “The Cottage.” Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Charles J. Morgan

Announcement to theatergoers everywhere — the English language is alive and well and ensconced on the boards of the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Standing like a rock in a sea of drivel, the theater’s latest play, “The Cottage” by Sandy Rustin, exhibits the nuances, the understatements, the acerbic humour, the articulate dialogue and even wisecracks to such a sophisticated, yet rapidly delivered, neatly interfaced lines that your scribe must confess he did not want the show to end.

From left, Henry Clarke, Christiane Noll and Jamie LaVerdiere in a scene from "The Cottage." Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
From left, Henry Clarke, Christiane Noll and Jamie LaVerdiere in a scene from “The Cottage.” Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rustin sculpted her work mindful of the spirit of that arch-sophisticated Noel Coward. A sample of his penetrating wit appeared epigrammatically on the Playbill:

“It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

Directed by BT McNicholl, the play expresses the web of marital and unmarital involvement that it is interspersed with humour that comes at the audience like a spray from a Bren gun. Yes, it is high comedy delivered in a rare sense of hilarity. It was interesting to literally watch the audience slowly accommodate itself to the sophistication of it all. A graph of laughter would register from zero to 100, reaching a climactic 100.99 right down to the almost slapstick finale.

Since your scribe does not hold a critic’s duty to relate what a play is all about, suffice it to say that it involves two couples who have criss-crossed spouses. So if there is a denoument, these characters do their absolute best to untangle it. Rachel Pickup playes the lead, Sylvia Van Kipness. Tall, beautiful and statuesque, she appears in all of Act I in negligé and peignoir. Over and above it all she is a supreme actress with a stage presence that would make her outstanding if she wore a suit of armour.

Henry Clarke is Beau, her lover. He has all the masculine good looks of the Hollywood leading man, but he employs all his talents to remarkable effect. In one scene he daringly points a fireplace poker at a man aiming a rifle at him.

Christiane Noll & Lilly Tobin in a scene from "The Cottage." Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Christiane Noll & Lilly Tobin in a scene from “The Cottage.” Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Sharply involved in the verbal interplay is Christiane Noll as Marjorie. Jamie LaVerdiere plays Clarke, Beau’s brother and husband to Marjorie who was once married to Beau. Then onstage comes Lilly Tobin, as Dierdre who is actually bounced all over the boards in Act II. Another spoiler is Brian Sgambati as Richard, the allegedly long-lost husband of Dierdre, but actually a deserter from the Royal Navy. Put them all together and you get a hilarious story that gets untangled … maybe.

The title reflects the set. It is the interior of an English cottage located 90 miles from London, possibly the Cotswolds. Set designer Jonathan Collins has outdone himself with this effort. It is tastefully decorated in what may be called English Rustic of 1923, the play’s time frame. Collins’ skills are outstanding.

The ribald essence of the show is an outcome of the vanished Victorian/Edwardian values that went up in smoke on the Somme, Gallipoli and Passchendaele. Hence the gaiety of the actors involved in marital disintegration. But let us not get somber over this. The show is humourous and not without a touch of satire.

If deadly serious matters can be put up for laughs, then prepare to split your sides … keeping in mind that the English language is alive and very well.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “The Cottage” through Sept. 6. Tickets are $59. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

BWW Reviews: Sandy Rustin’s Newest Play THE COTTAGE at The Engeman

 

July 29
5:11 PM2015

Attending the newest work from Sandy Rustin, The Cottage, a 2014 Reva Shiner Comedy Award finalist, you will feel inspired watching an original production being developed. This hilarious story, inspired by the works of Noel Coward, runs through September 6th at the gorgeous John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport, Long Island.

Wonderfully directed by BT McNicholl, it seems difficult to tell you about the tale without giving away the entire story and/or diminishing the comedic value. It revolves around a family in addition to some crazy characters with several storylines and many hysterical twists filling this two-act play. You truly become engrossed in the conversations and hilarity as the production has clever, enthralling writing and unfolds at a quick pace. To speak generally, this story is about “sex, betrayal, and, oh yes, love” as per the Engeman’s playbill.

Naturally, Mr. McNicholl’s ensemble cast is top-notch. The six person cast consists of Henry Clarke as Beau, Jamie Laverdiere (Broadway: The Producers, Pirate Queen, et. al.) as Clarke, Tony nominee Christiane Noll (Broadway: Ragtime, Chaplin, et. al.) as Marjorie, Rachel Pickup as Sylvia, Brian Sgambati (Broadway: The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, et. al.) as Richard, and Lilly Tobin as Dierdre. They all work incredibly well together and superbly deliver the zany shenanigans much to the approval of the enthusiastic audience. You will see their chemistry and timing are first rate.

Another highlight is the incredibly stunning set created by Engeman vet Jonathan Collins with Eric Reynold’s coordinating the props. As suggested from the response of my fellow patrons first walking into the theatre, Mr. Collinsoutdid himself with the rustic yet homey ambiance of the family’s English countryside cottage. The addition of Mr. Reynolds’ beautiful props ideally exhibited the upper class lifestyle of the family. To complete the beautiful overall look of the stage, Tristan Raines‘ costumes and Driscoll Otto‘s lighting are exquisite.

And so, The Cottage is indeed another hit for the Engeman. An engaging, amusing story and a divine, Broadway caliber cast make for a delightful night of theatre.

The Cottage is presented through September 6th at the John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport, Long Island. BySandy Rustin, Directed by BT McNicholl, Scenic Design by Jonathan Collins, Costume Design by Tristan Raines, Lighting Design by Driscoll Otto, Sound Design by Laura Shubert, Hair & Wig Design by Leah Loukas, Props Design by Eric Reynolds, Casting by Wojcik/Seay Casting, Stage Management by Devin Day. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Special Event Voucher Update!

Your Season Ticket Package Just Got Better!

We are constantly striving to make your membership at the John W. Engeman Theater better and better.

With this in mind, we are extending your 2015-2016 Special Event Vouchers until the end of the Season! This means your 2015-2016 Vouchers will be valid until the end of Thoroughly Modern Millie (July 10, 2016.)

Any remaining 2014 – 2015 Vouchers will expire on December 31, 2015.

Click HERE to see a list of our 2015-2016 Special Events. We’ve even added a few new Events! More will be announced as the Season continues.

Below are some of the upcoming events that you won’t want to miss!


Daisy Joplingmega

Daisy Jopling Band
August 2, 2015

Daisy is an internationally acclaimed violinist. She will join us with a full band for an EXCITING night of rock arrangements of great classical pieces, gypsy music, Irish Folk music, & tango.

mary thumb

Big Dummy
August 19, 2015

Mary Dimino is back! In April she sold out our theater with her hit “Scared Skinny.” Join this knee-slapping, one-woman comedian for a night to remember.

Joseph Joubert HR Head Shot

Fascinating Gershwin with Joseph Joubert
August 30, 2015

Mr. Joubert served as the conductor of Motown The Musical on Broadway and assistant conductor for Billy Elliot. His accomplishments are wide ranging and his talent has taken him not only across the continent, but also throughout the world. You will be reminiscing as you hear the gorgeous Gershwin melodies. Fascinating Rhythm, The Man I Love, I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’, I Got Rhythm, Swanee and more.


Have Questions? Contact Me!

Jackie Polden Season Ticket Manager

 

Jackie Polden
Season Ticket Manager
Email: JPolden@EngemanTheater.com
Phone:631-261-9700 ext 29

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