Englishwoman Jane Ayles has been a prolific leading light of the Taos theater world since arriving here from California in 2006. She now serves on the board of Odenbear Theatre, founded by Jim Hatch, where her talents are put to use in every facet of bringing a show from dream stage to onstage.
Ayles stated, “As we would say in jolly old England, I am the general dogsbody in that I direct, act, produce, collect props or assistant direct or do whatever needs to be done to make a production happen — it’s never boring!”
Her latest directorial offering for Odenbear is Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy, “How the Other Half Loves,” which opens tonight (March 9) for a two-week run at Metta Theatre, 1470 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m.
“I’ve done lots of Ayckbourn,” Ayles said. “I just love the way he wrote. What’s clever about this play is that we have two sets onstage at the same time, and the action is interspersed between them, but they can’t see each other. We see dinner parties on two different nights at the same time with different couples. And things happen at these dinner parties that you wouldn’t believe.”
The action takes place in the stockbroker world of 1970s England. The three couples in the play are grappling with class struggles, as well as an ever-unfolding puzzle box of secrets and comedic misunderstandings.
The upper-crust Frank and Fiona Foster are played by Joel Larson and Linda Stokas. The men in the two upwardly mobile couples both work for Frank and are anxious to impress their boss. Bob and Teresa Phillips are played by Christopher Heron and Savannah Holden, and William and Mary Featherstone are portrayed by Nick Boeder and Sabina Jones. The Featherstones, who attend both couples’ dinners, will be seen swiveling between the two overlapping sets.
“They’re all great together and I’m thrilled,” Ayles said. “Their main challenge just now is to stop laughing at how funny the show is during rehearsals, and it’s hard because it’s so funny.”
She described the play’s humor as reminiscent of “Fawlty Towers,” John Cleese’s classic British television comedy. “There’s a lot of nudge-nudge-wink-wink – all about class and trying to do the right thing. There are a lot of twists, a lot of mistaken identity.”
Ayles rhapsodized about the cast she’s assembled. “I’m loving working with these people. All my actors have worked so hard on this project and put so much into it, and they seem to be enjoying themselves hugely. I hope they are! Because I act as well, I identify with the challenges they have.”
Holden spoke about her character. “I play Terry, a fiery, emotional young mother who would be much better suited to volunteering for the Peace Corps or working for UNICEF than being a 1970s housewife. She puts her energy towards writing letters to the editor and keeping up with the news, but mostly her energy and frustration is taken out on her husband, Bob — not that he doesn’t deserve it. They have an extremely entertaining, tumultuous relationship, and I tend to think of them as high school sweethearts who had knock-down drag-out fights even at 16, but decided to get married anyway. I’m very much looking forward to playing such a different character from what I usually play. I typically get cast in a younger or more ‘innocent’ type role, and I can’t wait to let my attitude flag fly through Terry.”
Stokas talked about playing the ruling-class wife. “I’d have to say Fiona is a bit uppity. She is the queen of her castle and Frank her loyal subject, so she thinks. She’s a bit self-absorbed and certainly feels superior to those around her. I’m enjoying playing this character because she is so different from myself. That’s actually one of my favorite things about acting: It gives us the opportunity to stand in someone else’s shoes and stretch ourselves – while giving us permission to exist outside of our own comfort zones.”
“What I love about this play is that it’s always full of action,” Jones said. “There’s never not something happening. And it’s the details that count. It’s a mural of action, laughs and emotion. I play Mary, who’s married to William. They are basically the playing pieces to this story between the other two couples. They got tossed in the middle of it all. Mary is timid and shy, but underneath has a lot going on for her. It’s fun to explore her layers. This play requires every actor to be fully present and fully there because each character plays a vital role to the action and chaos that ensues. It’s an exciting show that’s full of surprises.”
“We’re looking forward to people having a wonderful, hilarious evening,” Ayles said. “Something silly, escapist, light and frothy. I hope it’s a breath of fresh air. Perfect for forgetting one’s humdrum life and jumping into this completely mad existence of another universe.”
In addition to today’s performance, others are scheduled Friday through Sunday (March 10-12) and March 15-19. Thursday through Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinées at 4 p.m. For more information, visit odenbeartheatre.com.