'The Cottage' review — an over-the-top comedy funhouse
Read our four-star review of The Cottage, written by Sandy Rustin and directed by Jason Alexander, on Broadway at the Hayes Theater through October 29.
The Cottage is an airy — and gassy — comedy about cheating. Sandy Rustin wrote the play with a single-minded mission — to keep you in stitches — and it largely hits the mark.
Now on Broadway a decade after it premiered in Queens, the play’s laughs and momentum do dip on occasion. Nonetheless, the cast consistently manages to make infidelity entertaining. Even when someone pulls a gun.
It’s 1923 in an English country house. Don’t let the posh locale fool you, nor that Noël Coward has been cited as an inspiration for this rom-com: Nobody’s here to mind their upper-crust manners. The onstage curtain at the Hayes Theater teases this. At first glance, you see a garden of colorful wildflowers outside the house. Soon, your eye catches squirrels boinking here and deer doing it there. It mirrors what goes on inside.
Since 1917, Sylvia (Laura Bell Bundy) and Beau (Will & Grace's Eric McCormack), who are married to other people, have carried on a Same Time, Next Year-style annual one-night tryst at his widowed mother’s country home decorated with animal heads. The sly implications of that decor eventually become clear. It’s always been a place about notching trophies.
It’s the morning after “passionate, wildly erotic sex.” Beau’s showering. Sylvia wears lingerie and is lit by afterglow. Per usual, he calls her Tulip, an endearment that makes her weak in the knees. But something’s different. Sylvia’s got a seven-year itch. She wants Beau to herself full-time. She has sent a telegram to her husband, Clarke (Alex Moffat, of Saturday Night Live), and Beau’s wife, Marjorie (Lilli Cooper), to tell them what’s going on.
In short order, they come to the love shack. The place gets even more crowded with the arrival of Deirdre (Dana Steingold) and her ex-husband Richard (Nehal Joshi). To reveal more about their interconnections and plot twists would be a killjoy. Suffice it to say there's a daisy chain of dalliances – and one link is way too close for comfort.
Of course, that’s the point. For laughs' sake, the situation is over-the-top. Rustin raids the comedy playbook for the pure sake of humor. She includes an extended fart joke, bad puns, an ongoing gag about cigarettes and booze popping up in unexpected places, a potential murder plot (hence the gun), and a truly dopey dime-store disguise.
“You stuck a mustache on a mustache?” asks a gobsmacked Sylvia. It’s absurd and funny, and it gets to the core of this layer cake of a comedy. Can’t have too much of a good thing.
Jason Alexander, a Seinfeld alum who won a Tony for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, impresses in his Broadway directing debut. He’s assembled an ace ensemble, keeps the pace reasonably revved, and wrapped it up in a good-looking production. One quibble – he overplays his hand with grandly silly music and light cues as characters make entrances.
McCormack hams it up expertly as the haughty Beau. Cooper slow-burns until Marjorie gets a moment to let it all rip. Broadway newcomer Moffat steps up as the klutzy charmer. Best of the bunch is Bundy, who makes every comedic line and pose gleefully giggle-inducing.
In the end, The Cottage is about Sylvia opening her eyes to her relationships with men. But the moment that sticks out is the hilarious sight of Sylvia plugging her nose with an old-timey phone receiver. Moments like that make The Cottage a Broadway funhouse.
Photo credit: Nehal Joshi, Alex Moffat, Laura Bell Bundy, Eric McCormack, and Dana Steingold in The Cottage. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
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