The Cottage Review: Broadway Comedy Directed by Jason Alexander

A posh country estate where half a dozen lovers reveal their infidelities is the setting for ‘The Cottage’, which premiered tonight at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre. Playwright Sandy Ruskin’s 1923 comedy of manners is so thoroughly dated that it might come as a surprise that it’s not based on pre-existing material, as so many recent Broadway shows have been. That’s not to say that any part of it feels original.

This is a paint-by-numbers sex farce whose parameters don’t go beyond the obvious: heterosexual marriage is restrictive for all, unreasonable for many, and, oh, it’s so exciting to transgress. The forbidden fruit delights that The Cottage, in a lavish staging by Jason Alexander, attempts to portray as a feast are familiar, superficial and fleeting.

Laura Bell Bundy’s Sylvia definitely enjoys playing Eric McCormack’s beau’s mistress. The play begins with the two preening and robbing each other the morning after their annual sporting bliss night. (The accents are typically British throughout.) In fact, Sylvia is so over the moon that she just sent breakup telegrams to her significant other. It just turns out that their spouses, Clarke and Marjorie (Alex Moffat and Lily Cooper, respectively) also shag each other more than once a year — Marjorie is pregnant (and Cooper is afflicted with pathetically oversized pads).

Oh, Beau and Clarke also happen to be brothers whose extramarital love belongs to their ailing mother. Two other future ex-partners, played by Nehal Joshi and Dana Steingold, eventually join the tea party, each carrying a secret identity vying for act two intrigue.

The spread of societal mores will appeal as long as anyone assumes that human desire could ever conform to rules. Monogamy is harsh, no partner is perfect, and the sex society tells people that they shouldn’t. A new comedy set a century ago could break such well-trodden territory with a number of hindsight questions—actually about sexuality, gender roles, patriarchy, capitalism, or some moral logic. The most profound question The Cottage deals with is whether soul mates exist. (Spoilers: They don’t.)

Even a coda implying that a woman needs a cottage of her own is undermined by the joke that she still obviously wants to fuck men there. No wonder: “The Cottage” does not admit women that they wanted something else.

The production, directed by Alexander, works feverishly to elicit laughs through repeated gags (like cigarettes oddly hidden in the decorations) and through performances cranked up to 11am that go nowhere. McCormack, who makes a thoroughly believable gigolo, is both underused and overshadowed. Bundy is as nimble and confident as an old Hollywood star, clad in blonde finger waves and ridiculously glamorous nightgowns (costume by Sydney Maresca). And Moffat, a Saturday Night Live alumnus, is a particularly adept and precise physical comedian in what is essentially a lengthy after-midnight skit.

But Rustin’s characters aren’t based on interests beyond their carnal ones, so there’s not much to get excited about other than them trading spit and honey. Even the suicidal Marjorie, who plays Cooper with subdued energy, is an unusual and horny bunny.

At least there’s plenty of scenery to munch on: the towering and absurdly ornate set design, a collage of printed wallpaper and costly knick-knacks, by Paul Tate dePoo III, draws applause from the curtain. It’s the first and last moment of the production’s real revelation.

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