THE COTTAGE, A Charming Broadway Comedy — Review
Q: Doesn’t he love you at all?
A: Isn’t it all or nothing?
I suppose it’s when we least expect them that feelings hit the hardest, so a bedroom farce in the style of Noël Coward becomes a likely candidate for a brief, biting moment of meditation on true, disinterested love. Sandy Rustin’s The Cottage, which has been making its rounds through regional theatres before landing at Broadway’s Hayes Theatre, is a well-crafted comedy with simple, sturdy laughs. Directed by Jason Alexander and set in the 1923 British countryside, it often feels like the ‘90s sitcom, or 2010s prestige, version of that—if Coward oversaw the unlikely consummation of Seinfeld and Downton Abbey. The laughs are there, thanks to a comedically fine-tuned cast, but, befitting a bed-hopping plot, a tender, surprising altruism keeps them on your face.
Beau (Eric McCormack) and Sylvia (Laura Bell Bundy) meet at his mother’s country house once a year for an extramarital rendezvous—a schedule his brother, Sylvia’s husband Clarke (Alex Moffat), deems “quite disciplined” once he shows up with Beau’s wife, Marjorie (Lilli Cooper), with whom he’s having his own, much more fertile affair. All of this is revealed within the play’s first 20 minutes, and the arrival of additional lovers (Dana Steingold and Nehal Joshi) is as predetermined as Rustin is uninterested in plot machinations.
The Cottage seems to be all about performances and sight gags. Try to count how many trick lighters and hidden cigarette holders Paul Tate dePoo III strews across his ornate, gleefully stuffy set, or ways the ravishing Bundy—picking up her mastery of dramedy which she last gifted Broadway 15 years ago, in Legally Blonde—toys with her negligee (by Sydney Maresca) to wield attention. But, all entanglements out in the open, the play becomes less interested in falling down stairwells—sad, to the extent that it is my belief a farce can never have too many Scooby-Doo-isms—and begins to lightly feather the ideas of monogamy and soulmates: How many is too many, or not enough, and do we ever know?
Everyone has a grand entrance and exit in this silly, straight-forward comedy, but life, Rustin proposes, can be far less romantic with our romances. And yet, she writes her characters with such affection and goodwill that a couple’s would-be maudlin goodbye—“Thank you… for loving me, on some level”—feels like a serene welcoming.
The Cottage is now in performance through October 29, 2023 at the Hayes Theatre on West 44th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.