They fail to spark a lifelong friendship, which is no great surprise. Especially after Oliver admits that they moved to this street because they wanted to live among “real people” and Emily proclaims that soccer “rots the soul.”
The play is set in 2012 and was first staged in England pre-“Brexit” and pre-Trump. Still, the political differences between the couple are obvious. That Emily makes the monstrous decision to serve tea and salted cashews instead of booze lays the mismatch bare. When Alan brings over a couple of his canvases for Emily, a professional painter, to judge, a good time is had by none.
Then again, terrible parties and wrecked dinners and disastrous get-togethers can be the stuff of great theater. But here, despite a vein of Ayckbourn-esque melancholy and a nod toward state-of-the-nation seriousness, Mr. Betts and the director, Stephen Darcy, keep surging past naturalism toward strident farce, then stumbling into tragedy. The production always spells out what was already pretty intelligible and which recent elections have made glaringly evident.
Between-scene sequences point up Alan’s boorishness and Dawn’s sexiness. The script forces Emily to underline her awfulness. And then highlight it. And then attach a bunch of neon sticky notes just for extra emphasis. There’s also a frenzied rendition of “Please Mr. Postman” that should be returned to sender.
These gestures may be intended to establish stereotypes that the play will then dismantle, but they seem like exaggerations meant to elicit laughs. Besides, the stereotypes mostly go unchallenged. Alan is boorish. Dawn is sexy. Emily is awful, though she has a tragic excuse for being so horrid. Oliver, the character who ultimately holds the most money and power, emerges as the least ridiculous.
If anyone still entertains a fantasy that people with divergent backgrounds and beliefs can be brought together by their common humanity,…