By: Paulanne Simmons
July 29. 2023: The Cottage, a comedy by actress/playwright Sandy Rustin has been around since 2013 when it premiered at Astoria Performing Arts Center, and now it’s landed on Broadway. If you like fart jokes, adulterous mayhem and reenactment of screwing in the stables, The Cottage is the show for you. If not, don’t waste your time and money.
The play is basically a riff on Noel Coward’s comedies of manners, particularly the bedroom farce, only without the sophistication or the wit. What it does have is Paul Tate dePoo III’s exquisite set, which not only recreates the iconic English country home but also allows for all the high jinks that will ensue.
However, in a Coward comedy the characters make interesting comments on society, and they have a distinct personality which makes them amusing. In Rustin’s play, the characters are all equally and similarly inane. This is not improved by Jason Alexander’s direction, which is mostly concerned with delivering the punchlines and slapstick.
The plot concerns the adulterous affairs of two couples. Beau (Eric McCormack of Will & Grace fame) is having an affair with his brother’s wife, Sylvia (Legally Blonde star Laura Bell Bundy). While Clarke (Alex Moffat from Saturday Night Live), Sylvia’s husband and Beau’s brother, is having an affair with Marjorie (Lilli Cooper), Beau’s wife. The only difference is that Sylvia and Beau only meet once a year, while Clarke and Marjorie go at it every chance they can get. Which may be why Marjorie is very obviously pregnant.
Given all these well-known names, it’s not surprising the entrance applause is overwhelming even before the actors say a word. The actors should have quit while they were ahead.
The situation becomes even more complicated with the arrival of Dierdre (Dana Steingold). She is also having an affair with Beau, who is cheating on both his wife and his mistress. To make matters worse, Dierdre has just divorced a mysterious, murderous husband named Richard (Nehal Joshi). Just when you think nothing can be salvaged, Clarke and Beau’s mother dies and saves the day, resulting in Sylvia having a change of heart as she advances into feminism.
This twist is both surprising and unlikely. In fact, it’s truly ridiculous. This ending is clearly imposed on the comedy by a playwright trying to put life into an old horse. Having asked us to laugh at what isn’t funny now the play asks us to take seriously what should be funny.
The Cottage runs through October 29, 2023 at Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street.
Photography: Joan Marcus