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STAGE REVIEW : Finding Humor in ‘How the Other Half Loves’

Dennis Erdman’s staging of Alan Ayckbourn’s early farce, “How the Other Half Loves,” at the Tiffany: Funny, yes; sidesplitting, no.

On opening night, the proverbial laugh meter reached its highest point during the fiendishly clever scene, just before intermission, when one hapless couple is entertained at two radically different dinner parties. In the story, the parties are held on consecutive nights, but on the stage it’s all done in one magnificent scene.

This double dinner party is a hard act to follow, but the cast of last year’s Theatre 40 revival managed to make the second act just as funny. I was chuckling for hours after leaving that production.

Here, it’s more like minutes. The second half doesn’t go into orbit.

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A few of the performances do. At the top of the list are the two who must shift rapidly between dinner parties: Yeardley Smith as a pigeon-toed, beady-eyed plain Jane and Ron Boussom (making a rare appearance away from his South Coast Repertory base) as her anxious, best-foot-forward hubby.

This pair adds an entire repertory of nonverbal ticks and deadpan stares to the proceedings. Smith also uses her voice to suggest dimensions of her character that aren’t immediately apparent, and Boussom toadys up to his superiors with a strained smile that’s on the verge of snapping at any second.

These two are caught in adulterous mix-ups between two other couples: the upper-class Fosters (Paxton Whitehead and Cecilia Hart) and the middle-class Phillipses (James Piddock and Jean Smart).

Whitehead is peerless as the well-intentioned Frank, casually damaging small appliances and small marriages with equal obliviousness. When Whitehead’s eyes widen, as he discovers a new project to bungle, watch out. Hart has a sharply sardonic edge.

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Smart’s performance toughens up the slowly-going-bonkers housewife she’s playing, though her accent is a trifle inconsistent. James Piddock plays her raffish mate with all the right sneers and leers--you can believe that these two were meant for each other.

Rawthey River’s set has no problem suggesting two contrasting households simultaneously, and Van Farrier’s costumes expertly range from the dumpy (on Smith) to the stylish (on Hart).

At 8532 Sunset Blvd., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 4 and 7:30 p.m., through Nov. 27. Tickets: $16-$18.50; (213) 652-6165.


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