WHAT “Alarms and Excursions” by Michael Frayn
WHEN | WHERE Through June 11. Upcoming: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 6:30 p.m. benefit Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Hampton Theatre Company at Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Ave.
TICKETS $30, seniors $25, students $10, benefit $100-$175; 631-653-8955, hamptontheatre.org
Don’t be alarmed. It’s an excursion into farce that’s taken over the stage occupied by the Hampton Theatre Company.
Looking up the meaning of “alarms and excursions,” you’ll find that the phrase was deployed as stage direction in Shakespearean plays, signifying frantic activity, such as war.
Nothing so grave transpires in “Alarms and Excursions,” a 1998 collection of sketches assembled as comic relief for the playwright. Michael Frayn said he turned to it as an antidote to the stress of writing “Copenhagen,” which examined how close the Nazis came to developing an atomic bomb.
The lone casualty in “A&E” sustains her injury in the first of five shorts: Two couples — the hosts and their dinner guests — become hapless victims of technology, from smoke and car alarms to answering machines and newfangled, potentially lethal corkscrews.
Directed with a sharp sense of comic timing by Diana Marbury, the Andrew Botsford, Rosemary Cline, George Loizides and Jane Lowe quartet plays this and other couple configurations, delivering relatable absurdity to everyday domesticity. The styles range from running in and out (or into) multiple doors, typical of many an all-out farce (witness Frayn’s “Noises Off”), to matched pairings of gymnastic linguistics.
“Finishing Touches,” with Botsford in a smoking jacket, comes off as “Masterpiece Theatre” parody. He can’t finish a sentence because his wife, played with snooty elegance by Lowe, beats him to the punch — except for the skit’s punchline, a delicious pun that would be criminal to divulge. Language of a different social order dominates “Pig in the Middle.” A debate over unidentified “thingies” devolves into a marital power struggle as Loizides and Cline trade all-but-incomprehensible rhythmic barbs. (Costumes by Teresa LeBrun say it all in terms of class.) Act I’s finale revisits the opening scene. Someone, evidently, has managed to open bottles of wine for serial toasts that never end in “good night.”
An extended Act II mini-play is a bit too extended at times. Two couples occupying identical side-by-side motel rooms (Sean Marbury’s double-vision set) become relentlessly judgmental after bumping into each other in the hall. Now we know what complete strangers really think of us.
The play has evolved since 1998. We understand why Frayn dropped the short about pay phones. But what about the one on squeezed-together airline passengers? Yes, 9/11 intervened. Still, it seems hyper-relevant now.