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.

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