‘Alarms and Excursions’ review: High-tech laughs in Quogue
By Steve Parks
Don’t be alarmed. It’s an excursion into farce that’s taken over the stage occupied by the Hampton Theatre Company.
Looking up the meaning of “alarms and excursions,” you’ll find that the phrase was deployed as stage direction in Shakespearean plays, signifying frantic activity, such as war.
Nothing so grave transpires in “Alarms and Excursions,” a 1998 collection of sketches assembled as comic relief for the playwright. Michael Frayn said he turned to it as an antidote to the stress of writing “Copenhagen,” which examined how close the Nazis came to developing an atomic bomb.
The lone casualty in “A&E” sustains her injury in the first of five shorts: Two couples — the hosts and their dinner guests — become hapless victims of technology, from smoke and car alarms to answering machines and newfangled, potentially lethal corkscrews.
Directed with a sharp sense of comic timing by Diana Marbury, the Andrew Botsford, Rosemary Cline, George Loizides and Jane Lowe quartet plays this and other couple configurations, delivering relatable absurdity to everyday domesticity. The styles range from running in and out (or into) multiple doors, typical of many an all-out farce (witness Frayn’s “Noises Off”), to matched pairings of gymnastic linguistics.
“Finishing Touches,” with Botsford in a smoking jacket, comes off as “Masterpiece Theatre” parody. He can’t finish a sentence because his wife, played with snooty elegance by Lowe, beats him to the punch — except for the skit’s punchline, a delicious pun that would be criminal to divulge. Language of a different social order dominates “Pig in the Middle.” A debate over unidentified “thingies” devolves into a marital power struggle as Loizides and Cline trade all-but-incomprehensible rhythmic barbs. (Costumes by Teresa LeBrun say it all in terms of class.) Act I’s finale revisits the opening scene. Someone, evidently, has managed to open bottles of wine for serial toasts that never end in “good night.”
An extended Act II mini-play is a bit too extended at times. Two couples occupying identical side-by-side motel rooms (Sean Marbury’s double-vision set) become relentlessly judgmental after bumping into each other in the hall. Now we know what complete strangers really think of us.
The play has evolved since 1998. We understand why Frayn dropped the short about pay phones. But what about the one on squeezed-together airline passengers? Yes, 9/11 intervened. Still, it seems hyper-relevant now.
Frayn’s Farce of Foibles In Quogue
Hampton Theatre Company Will Conclude 32rd Season With ‘Alarms And Excursions’
By Lorraine Dusky
(Southampton Press and East Hampton Press)
What do the squeals and shrieks of a human orgasm sound like to others listening through the wall?
Certainly nearly everyone who has partaken of that rite of survival of the species thinks they know what that might sound like.
Not so fast. Something else more mundane might be under way.
Playwright Michael Frayn makes much of just such a misconception in his farce of human foibles and follies, “Alarms and Excursions,” currently staged by Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue.
In two acts and five sketches—only two are related by plot points—Mr. Frayn plucks our awareness of the frequent absurdity of human behavior not only when we interact with each other, but also with inanimate objects, which are definitely out to get us. The result is a madcap two hours of lightness and laughter with a nimble cast of four under the brisk direction of HTC artistic director Diana Marbury. For those old enough to remember—that would be most of the audience in Quogue—think Lucy and Desi and Fred and Ethel of “I Love Lucy.” Mr. Frayn’s work here is just that silly.
He is best known for “Copenhagen,” a serious work about the rationale for making an atomic bomb and for which he won a Tony, and “Noises Off,” a farce, that was previously staged by HTC.
The highlight of this staging of “Alarms and Excursions” is the second act, which puts two couples (Andrew Botsford and Jane Lowe; George Loizides and Rosemary Cline) in hotel rooms that are down-to-the-pillow-slip duplicates of each other. (As we have come to expect, the sets by Ms. Marbury and her son, Sean, are handsome and detailed.)
The twosomes interact not only with each other, but also the hotel room itself, couple to couple, as well as woman to woman, and man to man. At times, they mirror each other, but not quite—yet enough so that we see how similarly all we humans might respond to the surprise, of say, a trouser press in our hotel room. Okay, that’s a throwback to an earlier era, making “Alarms and Excursions” a 1998 period piece set specifically in Britain. Over here, I’ll venture that such an accoutrement in a mid-priced hotel room even a decade ago was nearly nonexistent. Instead, one called room service and the offending trousers were taken away to be returned perfectly pressed.
The skit drags a little—a running gag about what the couples are named goes nowhere—but the aforementioned orgasmic scene is worth the wait. What do most people remember about “When Harry Met Sally”? Meg Ryan’s demonstration in a deli of a woman faking an orgasm. The same will be true here, as Mr. Botsford and Ms. Lowe carry it off with knowing panache.
When the farce was performed in England, much was made of our being in thrall to modern technology, such as answering machines and smoke detectors that won’t stop beeping. Yet here and now, the opening skit, which deals with gadgets gone wild, seems less than fresh, and not just because the technology has advanced. Perhaps that is because the skit goes on too long.
Miscommunication among humans is the subject of the next spoof as a couple go several rounds about a simple household problem. With Mr. Frayn’s smart dialogue knotting farce and satire together flawlessly, Mr. Loizides and Ms. Cline hilariously demonstrate how inexactitude leads to stupefaction and thus, exasperation. Many a long-married couple will recognize themselves here and again throughout the evening.
The real charmer in the first act is a short but brilliant discourse between Mr. Botsford and Ms. Lowe in which they complete each other’s sentences. The two actors are extremely well paired; their timing is exquisite.
HTC knows its audience well, and chooses plays to suit. HTC is not the place for edgy, experimental theater, though that is not to say that all of the selections are akin to cotton candy; some are thoughtful dramas about the human condition. “Clybourne Park,” an examination of race relations, that HTC staged a few years ago, was one such offering.
“Alarms and Excursions” is not of that ilk. This is one to see because live theater by a competent troupe nearby is like having friends by to perform in your living room, and because this fizzy froth is, simply put: fun.
“Alarms and Excursions” continues at Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Avenue, Quogue, through June 11, Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m, except for Saturday, June 3, when a 6:30 p.m. benefit performance is planned, preceded by wine and hors d’oeuvres at the theater and followed by a cocktail buffet at the Quogue Field Club. An additional matinée is planned Saturday, June 10, at 2:30 p.m. Show tickets are $30, with discounts available for seniors 65 and older, those under 35, and students, available by calling 866-811-4111. Tickets to the benefit are $175 each or $300 for a pair, available by calling 631-653-8955 or online by Tuesday, May 30.
Delirious Chaos at HTC’s Alarms & Excursions
by Beth Young
(East End Beacon)
As audience members were leaving Hampton Theatre Company’s opening night performance of “Alarms & Excursions,” they were delicately choosing words to speak to their theater partners, awkwardly pushing the exit doors and carefully testing the steps at the entry to the Quogue Community House as they fumbled with their electronic car door openers.
The advance press on this production called “Alarms & Excursions” a ‘delirious comedy.’ It was an unusual description, but after seeing this play I realized it was really quite brilliantly apt. This play will turn your world on its head, at least for a couple hours after you leave the theater, and that’s something all good theater should do.
Playwright Michael Frayn, perhaps most famously known for writing “Noises Off,” created a brilliant world of bumbling couples for this 1998 series of five maddening vignettes, and the HTC veteran four-person cast, under the expert direction of Diana Marbury, has a ball with this material.
With wigs, false mustaches and elaborate costume changes, Andrew Botsford, Rosemary Cline, George Loizides and Jane Lowe (referred to in the playbill as Actors A, B, C & D) take on the personae of a bizarre array of characters — all middle aged couples, all having difficulty communicating with one another, all publicly wrestling with their own personal pits of unfulfillment.
While much of the press about this play focuses on the difficulties posed by technology in modern life — technology that has only become more maddening since “Alarms & Excursions” was first produced in 1998 — it’s the way these characters interact with their spouses that is really the thread that ties these pieces together.
George Loizides in HTC’s production of “Alarms & Excursions” | Tom Kochie
The play opens as Mr. Botsford and Ms. Cline welcome Mr. Loizides and Ms. Lowe over for dinner. But between a dangerous wine bottle-opening gadget, a chirping smoke alarm, a ridiculous whole-house phone network and the alarm on their oven, the two couples spend much of the evening running around and off stage, slamming doors, standing on or rolling under tables and trying to get Ms. Cline out the door to Casualty (This is a British play. She’s not dead.) after she slices her hand open with the bottle opener.
We leave these couples as abruptly as we join them, entering another world of a working class couple played by Mr. Loizides and Ms. Cline, as he arrives home from work with his lunch pail and she tries to explain to him what happened that day when a man came by to look at a thing that was malfunctioning in their house.
It’s an understated but brilliant sketch, Ms. Cline wearing work coveralls and pantyhose rolled down mid-calf, smirking as she deliberately sets her husband off on a discussion that they’ve obviously had many times before, Mr. Loizides’ character, morphed decades younger by a brown mop-topped wig, convinced that she is just a foolish woman, not realizing that she has deliberately set off this interaction.
In less deft hands, this type of dialogue could be terribly painful. But Frayn’s pacing is so frenetic that it’s the stuff of great comedy. If Thursday’s audience were capable of it, they would have been rolling on the floor laughing.
As often is the case at HTC, the set design by Sean Marbury and lighting by Sebastian Paczynski here are superb, and there’s one big brilliant set change at intermission that takes us to two hotel rooms, perhaps somewhere by the sea but overlooking a car park, where our couples, now a new set of characters, are trying to have a couple of good holidays.
If you’ve ever been on holiday with your mate, you will probably wince with familiarity at the drudging dialogue that ensues: where to put your suitcase, an examination of the mini-bar, a reading of hotel literature about the in-house restaurant, an excursion to the bathroom, an examination of the view of the aforementioned car park, the joy at finding a trouser press — a great novelty! — in each room.
But don’t fear, these characters take this drudgery somewhere superbly funny.
All four actors do a fine job with this material and are obviously quite at home on the stage. You will likely remember Ms. Cline and Ms. Lowe’s performances in last spring’s HTC production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” and Mr. Botsford as the President of the United States in last fall’s production of “November.”
It was great to see Mr. Loizides back on the HTC stage — his last on-stage role was in the company’s production of “Heroes” more than three years ago.
The actors in this show are all fine chameleons, and watching them become new people again and again in the space of two hours is a rare treat.
According to HTC, this play, like “Noises Off,” takes its title from a stage direction, “in this case the Elizabethan script note originally rendered in Shakespeare’s first folio as “alarums and excursions.” While “noises off” calls for sounds to be made offstage, “alarms and excursions” started out as a direction to the players to represent military action by loudly calling out “to arms!” and moving rapidly around the stage. The phrase eventually came to mean that everybody on stage should make as much noise as possible and run on and off stage repeatedly to depict chaos.”
In the case of this show, chaos is just what the doctor ordered. Bravo.
Performances will be held through June 11 on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturday June 10 at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
On Saturday, June 3, there will be a special benefit performance.The audience will enjoy a glass of wine or beer and hors d’oeuvres at the theater at 6 p.m. prior to the 6:30 p.m. curtain, and there will be a cocktail reception and buffet following the performance at the Quogue Field Club. Tickets are $175 per person or $300 per couple. For more information, email [email protected]
, or call 631.653.8955.
Regular prices are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors (except Saturday evening), $15 for those under 35 and $10 for students under 21. Tickets are available at 1.866.811.4111.
ALARMS AND EXCURSIONS
By Bridget LeRoy
Michael Frayn’s Alarms and Excursions is the final production of the Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue’s 32nd season, and continues the community theater’s tradition of offering its audiences “deep cuts” by famous playwrights. Frayn is better known for his other fast-paced comedy, Noises Off, as well as his more serious works like Copenhagen and Democracy, but Alarms and Excursions – which features a series of vignettes on the Alarms And Excursions foibles and misunderstandings that arise from our relationships with technology and with each other – is not often produced.
The original production featured eight short plays, but HTC director Diana Marbury has wisely chosen only five, which fits neatly into a two-hour production with one intermission, with four actors playing different characters throughout.
Act one opens with “Alarms,” in which four friends, who plan on a quiet dinner party, are bothered by an unidentifiable beeping noise. Of course, it only goes downhill from there, as other buzzers, alarms, and new-fangled gadgets join the fray. The HTC veteran cast – Andrew Botsford, Rosemary Cline, George A. Loizides, and Jane Lowe – perform wonderfully as an ensemble all the way through the evening, and in a work where timing is everything, showed their best chops to a gleeful opening night crowd.
Next up, “Pig in the Middle,” where Cline as the wife tries to explain to her husband, played by Loizides, what “the man who came about the thing” had to say. Apparently, it’s not “the thing around the back.” That’s the trouble; it’s something else. Any married couple who has tried to explain anything to each other will relate.
Third is “Finishing Touches” where a wife, played by Lowe, always finishes her husband’s … sentences. Botsford plays the beleaguered husband, but by the end, the tables have turned and the pace has quickened. Finishing up the first act, “Leavings,” which brings us back to the quartet from the first scene, after many, many, many bottles of wine, and finally, blessed silence. And yet the guests just won’t leave. Conversations get started, dropped, picked up, dropped again, picked up again, as actors wander off and return in an exhausted and drunken daze, almost Beckett-like in its absurdity. After the intermission, the entire second act offers up “Doubles,” where two couples, who are strangers, attempt to enjoy their vacations in adjacent rooms. This is really Frayn’s comedic writing at its meatiest, as the jokes and misunderstanding abound. Again, Marbury has done an outstanding job choreographing the actors, who sometimes talk over each other and sometimes say the same lines together, who sometimes acknowledge each other (listening at the wall) and other times perform unintentional mirror exercises.
As always, HTC features fabulous sets by Sean Marbury, lighting by Sebastian Paczynski, and costumes by Teresa LeBrun. Heading now into its 33rd year, Hampton Theatre Company continues to present top-grade productions to an appreciative audience.
ALARMS AND EXCURSIONS
presented by The Hampton Theatre Company
by Melissa Giordano
Closing out their spectacular 32nd season, The Hampton Theatre Company (HTC) offers the uproarious British comedy Alarms and Excursions by Michael Frayn. In this engaging play, the actors appear in a series of vignettes – different characters and stories; sometimes all on stage together and sometimes not – making light of otherwise embarrassing situations. Moreover, situations involving new technology – 1998 technology. Most of the vignettes don’t have any relation, but each are absolutely sidesplitting.
To give you perhaps a better idea, I dare say that I liken this type of production to one of my favorite television shows I Love Lucy. Each of the vignettes, like the show, are simple, lighthearted, and funny with people navigating day-to-day life and getting into and out of situations; except there’s no scatter brained red head.
This incarnation, running through June 11th at the Quogue Community Hall, is excellently directed by Artistic Director Diana Marbury.
Boasting a wonderful ensemble cast of four – HTC vets Andrew Botsford, Rosemary Cline, George A. Loizides, and Jane Lowe – they will surely have you laughing long after you’ve seen this production. The busy first act is the “alarms” part when smoke alarms, timers, and such go off at hilariously inopportune times. We see all but one of the vignettes in the first half of the show and the amount of physicality from the troupe is inspired. A strong comedic cast is required for this type of show, and this company delivers superbly.
The second act is the “excursions” part set in a hotel as the characters are on vacation. There are specific movements needed for this section as theirs is an intimate stage and the couples cannot see each other at first. But let me tell you, out of all of the vignettes, this part seems to net the most laughs.
And fittingly, the term “Alarms and Excursions” is an old theatre term, too.
Also a highlight is Ms. Marbury’s creative team and stage crew. Seamus Naughton’s sound design is top-notch and indeed an integral part of this show. Perfect timing adds the laughter from the audience. This is enhanced perfectly from Sean Marbury’s clever set and Teresa LeBrun’s stunning costumes. And special kudos to the outstanding stage crew. In particular, the vignettes in the first act are each about 10 minutes long, so they have very little time to switch scenes, costumes, wigs… everything. A job very well done to all.
And so, the Hampton Theatre Company culminates another thrilling season with a fantastic showing of Michael Frayn’s Alarms And Excursions. I truly appreciate the HTCs keen sense of their audience and the wonderful sometimes semi-obscure productions they run. I’m sure next season will be just as stellar!
Alarms And Excursions is presented by The Hampton Theatre Company at the Quogue Community Hall of Quogue, Long Island, through June 11th. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (631) 653-8955 or visit www.hamptontheatre.org.
By Michael Frayn, Direction and Set Décor by Diana Marbury, Set Design by Sean Marbury, Lighting Design by Sebastian Paczynski, Costume Design by Teresa LeBrun, Sound Design by Seamus Naughton, Stage Management by Chrissie DePierro