A few moments here hint at that possibility, as when Sylvia says, “So, you stuck a mustache on a mustache and changed your name to Richard?” — a line that is both perfectly logical in context and logic’s perfect opposite outside it. And Moffat’s extreme character choices, including postures that find him tied up in pretzels with his feet en pointe, nearly turn this “Saturday Night Live” clown’s performance into modern dance.

But these are squibs; they zoom up, pop briefly and fizzle. Despite the cast’s mostly elegant work — Bundy and the self-mocking McCormack consistently hit their marks — the script and what feels like Alexander’s desperation to keep things aloft inevitably let them down. I am not, for instance, aware of a scene in Coward involving 30 seconds of earsplitting flatulence. Nor do the stinger chords that announce each new character’s entrance inspire confidence in the production’s genre discipline.

“The Cottage” is therefore more of a spoof than a farce, and less a spoof of Coward or Wilde than of Feydeau, soap operas and middlebrow adultery comedies of the 1970s like “6 Rms Riv Vu” and “Same Time, Next Year.” More or less successfully, they all used humor to assuage the sexual anxieties of their times by showing how characters twisted into agonies of jealousy and desire might nevertheless come to a good end.

Rustin wants to do something similar by introducing three additional amatory complications, including Dierdre (Dana Steingold) and Richard (Nehal Joshi), about whom it would be unfair to say more. In different ways they lead Sylvia, who gradually becomes the center of the play, to reject the traditional assumptions that too often trap women in loveless marriages. Developing this feminist angle on Coward, Rustin name-checks the English suffragist leader Emmeline Pankhurst and draws on a surprise instance of intergenerational sisterhood to resolve the plot.

Though the misogyny of man-made social institutions (and plays) is not exactly news, I was glad of this development in theory, and impressed with Bundy’s ability to carry it off at the just-right midpoint between silly and serious. But after all the temporizing and flatulating earlier, the last-minute arrival of a point seemed, well, beside the point. Had I laughed more than twice in the play’s previous 119 minutes, I might even have found it funny.

The Cottage
Through Oct. 29 at the Helen Hayes Theater, Manhattan; thecottageonbroadway.com. Running time: 2 hours.


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