By Lucy Komisar
A non-salacious play about sex? Probably not these days. You’d have to go back to the last century. And that is just what Sandy Rustin does, to 1923 in fact, exactly a hundred years ago. Rustin’s sex farce, “The Cottage,” is a hokey funny slapstick shambles set in a gorgeous English country house where, instead of the ubiquitous moose head on the wall there is an end table atop the base of a stuffed dog. (Kudos for set designer Paul Tate dePoo III.) And for director Jason Alexander who manages the farce perfectly; it is very clever, never silly.
The negligée-clad Sylvia (a smashing Laura Bell Bundy) is verbally and physically snuggling up to her lover Beau (Eric McCormack in a dressing gown projecting a sophisticated David Niven). “I wish you were my husband,” she declares, and we are surprised to learn their trysts have been only once a year for the past seven. She is slightly ditsy, but in a nice way. Then in a fit of pique, she sends wires to her husband Clarke and Beau’s wife Marjorie.
Move on to the fast action of a typical farce. Instead of doors closing we have a character diving head first into a trunk. That is Clarke (a very comic Alex Moffat), a British Conservative (though that has no context here) who believes in God (also no context). To set the class stage, Beau is a lawyer and Clarke, his brother, is an accountant. So, upper middle class.
Turns out Clarke is not only having affair with Marjorie (Lilli Cooper), the wife of Beau, but is about to be father of her twins. In their moment of kissing, Clarke kicks like a horse, which is pretty funny. (Have to note that the stage curtain shows drawings of deer and squirrels in flagrante!)
You have to wonder how the two upper-middle-class couples switching partners organized the logistics. But that also explains it.
At one point a character throws what appears to be a garter belt or bra into the audience, and it is caught and waved.
Another nice touch is that the men have given their lovers flower names, Tulip for Sylvia, Lilly for Marjorie and Petunia for Dierdre (Dana Steingold) who we learn is the full-time lover of Beau. Her appeal is that though she is/was a prostitute, she’s wonderfully naïve. She informs everyone that her divorced husband Richard killed all her other lovers. This raises concern when it turns out he is on the trail of the latest paramour, Beau!
The farce becomes a melodrama! Richard (Nehal Joshi), a bearded guy, arrives with a gun he aims at Sylvia when she opens the door, but she of course recognizes him as an old lover, William, she thought was dead. Can you keep all this straight?
Beau and Clarke rush down the stairs with “weapons,” a mounted swordfish, a stuffed porcupine.
I loved the ending where the brothers’ mother, who was a friend of suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, has the last word. That’s what happens when a woman writes a sex farce!
“The Cottage.” Written by Sandy Rustin, directed by Jason Alexander. Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street. (212) 239-6200. Runtime 2hrs5. Opened July 24, 2023, closes Oct 29, 2023. Review on NY Theatre Wire.