Performance: Art of infidelity in 'How to Cheat'

ROHAN PRESTON | Updated 8/17/2012

Playwright/director Alan Berks on his new comedy.

Candy Simmons and Randy Reyes in "How to Cheat"

Alan Berks is communications director at Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis. He and Leah Cooper (the two are married) co-founded the Twin Cities theater-centric website Minnesota Playlist. As if that weren't enough theater involvement, Berks also writes and directs.

Knowing how busy he is, we zapped him with Five Fast Questions about his show "How to Cheat," which stars Randy Reyes and Candy Simmons.

Here's what Berks had to say about the comedy, a hit during its 2006 premiere at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Is this really a how-to guide to infidelity? It's an adult play about adult themes for adults. When I originally submitted the application for a spot in the Fringe Festival, I needed to have a catchy title before I wrote the play. It's actually not a manual on how to cheat. One of the characters says, "I've always wondered how people cheat." It's a question of how and why, what cheating means -- to the cheater and the cheated. None of that sounds funny, but it's a comedy. Really.

The play is about these two people who meet at a party, neither of whom really belongs there. The scientist, Louis, is a stem-cell researcher. He's a single guy who is, for the moment, the toast of the town. He enjoys going to these affairs to meet women and seduce them. Meredith is a journalist who reports from the aftermath of disaster zones. She's married to a banker, his arm candy. Meredith and Louis strike up a flirtation and run off to a corner of this party mansion. The big question that hangs over the play is, will they or won't they?

I wrote "How to Cheat" because I had just come off doing another play for Gremlin [Theatre] that was all about hurricanes and disasters. It was serious and bleak and I needed something to cheer myself up. But I didn't want to set it in some fanciful world like a wedding or a carnival, like what Shakespeare does in his comedies. I'm fascinated by how complicated the world has become. Well, maybe it was always complicated, but we have instant access to its complexity now online. And having so much information about so many serious things happening in the world makes it hard to laugh at times. Sometimes you just need a comedy. The challenge for me was how to embrace the complexity of the world, acknowledge it, and still be able to be witty and funny. The couple are in a morally ambiguous situation. There are people who might sit in an audience and say, "it's adultery. I don't think this can be funny."

"How to Cheat" is the spawn of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" with a witty, farcical Stoppard play, which makes it all sound British, except we throw a little Neil Simon in there. It's like "Same Time Next Year" and "The Real Inspector Hound," in which the critics get killed. Nobody gets killed in this play. I like to watch really sexy people saying really witty things. In the film world, Hollywood doesn't make this kind of comedy anymore. But Meredith and Louis are like Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in a delicious exchange of zingers.

I work full-time and I write and direct plays. How do I do it? I don't sleep that much. Plus I have a wonderful wife who's really understanding about how lack of sleep affects moods. Time is an issue, of course, but when you're in a rehearsal process with two great actors and a script that you believe in, I feel blessed.