The end of the affair(s)

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Nancy Anderson, Spencer Plachy, Mark Price and Michele Ragusa (left to right) in Theatre Aspen's production of "The Cottage," which closes Saturday night.
Jeremy Swanson |

If You Go…

What: The Cottage, presented by Theatre Aspen

Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park

When: Friday, Aug. 15, Saturday, Aug.16, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets and more info:

“The Cottage,” Sandy Rustin’s new play, finishing its summer run at Theatre Aspen this weekend, opens appropriately to Cole Porter singing “Let’s Misbehave” in the background.

The deliciously over-the-top misbehavior of this throwback sex farce, directed by Don Stephenson, begins immediately after the music fades out and the stage lights go up.

The action starts the morning after Beau and Sylvia have met for a one-night tryst at Sylvia’s husband’s family cottage in the English countryside, an annual tradition they’ve continued for seven summers. She fawns over Beau desperately, wishes he were her husband, rather than Clarke, with whom, she complains, she only shares “rare and mediocre sex.”

She soon reveals she’s sent Clarke a telegram announcing the affair. She imagines the revelation will allow her to break from Clarke, marry Beau and live happily ever after. Those plans are soon spoiled, as a series of unexpected visitors to the cottage reveal a tangled web of bed-hopping and infidelity that weaves itself in an ever more absurd jumble of lust, love and lies. Knocks on the door come from Clarke and Beau’s wife, Marjorie and his lover Dierdre and her husband, Richard, who is also the long-lost lover of another character under a different identity. Do you follow? No matter, the crissing and crossing and double-crossing of affairs keeps you in its thrall over the play’s two acts.

Set in 1923, it’s a self-aware homage to cheeky Noel Coward works like “Private Lives.” At one point a character refers to another’s “ex-lover’s lover’s ex-husband.”

Nancy Anderson, as Sylvia, leads an ensemble cast of six that appropriately shoots for the moon with the material (and the British accents) and delivers 90 minutes of laughs without a lull.

“This is not romance,” Beau says early on. “This is sex.”

Yep, and this isn’t drama — it’s farce. And it’s fun.

Rustin and her cast manage to pull off both high-brow wit and broad-as-it-gets comedy — sometimes simultaneously and probably laying it on a little too thick for some tastes at times. A ludicrously long, drawn-out fart from Marjorie is a turning point in the second act. There are slapsticky fights and chases around the cottage, guns pulled, promises made and broken and occasionally what might be genuine affection between characters.

By play’s end, it’s apparent that it’s a woman among this horny cohort who has been the master manipulator all along, and the play has been subverting the conventions of sex farce (and 1920s gender roles).

“What’s the point of it all?” a lovelorn, drunken Dierdre asks near the play’s conclusion.

“The game,” Richard suggests.

With this material and this cast, “The Cottage” is a game worth playing.