Starring in "Norman Conquests: Table Manners" are, from left, Stacey...

Starring in "Norman Conquests: Table Manners" are, from left, Stacey Wallace, Evan Donnellan, and Jane Maushay. It opens tonight (Friday, May 2, 2010) at Arena Players in East Farmingdale. Photo by Fred DeFeis Credit: Fred DeFeis Photo/

The playwright long known on this side of the Atlantic as "Britain's Neil Simon" unexpectedly found himself praised as Chekhovian when his lustful 1970s trilogy, "The Norman Conquests," stormed Broadway and won the 2009 Tony for best play revival.

The opening third of Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy, "Table Manners," now inhabits a dining room by Arena Players' set designer Fred Sprauer, while another Ayckbourn exercise in libido torment, "Bedroom Farce," wears out three beds on Hampton Theatre Company's set by James Ewing and Diana Marbury.

Although there's a touch of Chekhov to "Conquests" - guests descend on a country home - the comic thrust more than counterbalances underlying angst. Annie (Allison Jordan) is stuck in a Victorian home caring for her unappreciative and unseen mother. Frustrated that her attentive neighbor Tom (clueless as played by Dean Schildkraut) never moves past hello, Annie arranges a "dirty weekend" with her brother-in-law (the unabashed title character emboldened by handsome Evan Donnellan).

Needing someone to look after dear Mum, she enlists the help of brother Reg (Harold Harvey) and his judgmental wife, Sarah (Jane Maushay). Meanwhile, Annie's sister, Ruth (played with an irascible temper by Stacey Wallace), shows up to spoil the tryst. A dysfunctional family dinner ensues. Table-setting rituals replace foreplay as the comic engine to efficient, if underwhelming, effect as directed by Fred De Feis.

Busy boudoirs

In "Bedroom Farce" (1975), director Sarah Hunnewell, with illuminating assists from lighting designer Sebastian Paczynski, switches among calamities in three parallel boudoir universes: Parental couple Ernest (George Loizides) and Delia (Marbury) are going out to dinner; hysterical Malcolm (James Patrick Cronin) and solicitous Kate (Kristi Artinian) are throwing a party, while self-assured Jan (Rebecca Edana) prepares to attend the party without whining hubby Nick (Paul Bolger), who's nursing a bad back. Jan's solo appearance at the party sets off her ex, Trevor (Ernest and Delia's son, skittishly played by Peter Connolly), and his insecure wife, Susannah (a loopy Stephanie Nieman), whose row ends in Trevor kissing Jan.

If it all sounds very junior high school, well, it is. The only adult factor is that everyone seems capable of navigating between bedrooms without a chaperone.

Whether it's Neil Simon funny or not may depend on whether you get the Britishisms. Since I find sardines funnier than herring, I think I got it. In any case, eating fish in bed can be surprisingly amusing - if not Chekhovian.

WHAT "Table Manners," part of the "Norman Conquests" trilogy by Alan Ayckbourn

WHEN | WHERE Thursday through Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 3 p.m., through June 13, at Arena Players, 296 Rte. 109, East Farmingdale

INFO $20 to $25; arena, 516-293-0674

WHAT "Bedroom Farce," a comedy by Alan Ayckbourn

WHEN | WHERE Thursday through Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 2:30 p.m., through June 13, at Hampton Theatre Company at Quogue Community Hall, 126 Jessup Ave.

INFO $25, $23 seniors, $10 students; hampton, 631-653-8955

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