England’s Alan Ayckbourn has become admired and renowned for writing clever, amusing plays using inventive, original concepts often dealing with marriages in trouble. One of those is House and Garden which occurs simultaneously in two places, hence, in effect, depicting separate moments with the same characters, events which relate to each other but cannot be seen together. These two experiences opened together but physically apart presented by Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre.
I’ve only seen Garden so far. But with so many interesting, incompletely understood developments taking place, inevitably, like most people, I look forward to experiencing the rest, intrigued and curious. Good trick A.A. Get em asking for more.
The question is, though, can either play stand alone? At first, I wasn’t sure about Garden.The first act looks like fragments rather than something going somewhere specific. But ultimately a lot comes together with some good character development and truly funny situations. Plus the fine PICT cast plays both the subtleties and the comedy exceptionally well, guided expertly by director Melissa Hill Grande. Hence, although, some pieces are missing, intentionally, Garden grows on one.
It helps to prepare yourself about the characters and how they relate. At opening night I saw people in the audience examining program books during the performance. My guess is that they were trying to sort out everyone on stage. Well, there are four couples, (1) Teddy and Trish Platt plus their daughter Sally (2) Giles and Joanna Mace plus their son Jake (3) Warn Coucher married to Izzie Truce who has a 30 year old daughter Pearl and (4) childless Barry and Lindy Love. This takes place during May at the Platt’s country estate to which there are also three visitors Gavin Ryng-Mayne, Lucille Cadeau and Fran Briggs. Notice the names: some seem rather patent, like something out of Restoration comedy. Maybe intentionally, come to think of it, given that those classics also dealt with morals among the upper classes.
The fulcrum of Garden concerns Teddy’s breaking off his extra-marital affair with Joanna. When Joanna’s husband, innocent Giles, learns of the liaison he has serious trouble dealing with it. That brings him closer to his son Jake who has a crush on Teddy and Trish’s daughter Sally. Meanwhile, Barry and Lindy set up a garden party during which their relationship gets clearly revealed. Along the way, Teddy gets briefly, sensuously involved with visiting movie star Lucille Cadeau, even though neither speaks the other’s language. i.e. A lot of this is about developments and characters rather than just a playful romp through flowering, deliberately funny lines. Among the best parts is a scene between the bereft Giles and his son Jake where each unburdens his insecurities and doubts, making it clear how much alike they are. David Bryan Jackson becomes a marvel to watch as Giles in a standout performance at every turn.
As the self-involved Barry Love, Michael Fuller gives a superb,subtle performance in which he and director Grande have chosen not to show him deliberately and harshly pushy, but rather as if Barry is unaware of his effect on his wife Lindy. As for other portrayals I found Beth Hylton’s take as the newly- jilted Joanna, too much over the top on opening night.
The cast includes Pittsburgh’s Helena Routi, seen only briefly in Garden, Martin Giles as Teddy, Tressa Glover as Lindy Love and Mary Rawson as the housekeeper Izzie. Plus there’s a wonderful bunch of little local kids romping through and about.
Other visiting artists include the excellent Nike Doukas as Lucille and Leo Marks as Gavin. Both of them often appear in PICT productions.
You may want to know that several varieties of English accents are used and that Lucille speaks only French which is almost never translated. Nonetheless, everything that is happening and why is it happening remains completely clear. Considering how well this is all done, I recommend you drop in. I think you’ll look forward to the entire visit, even if it takes you more time, cumulatively, than it takes the actors to do the whole thing.
House continues at the Charity Randall Theatre and Garden at the Henry Heymann simultaneously through July 17th at the Stephen Foster Memorial, Forbes Avenue in Oakland. Tickets at ProArtsTickets at 412/394.3353 or online at www.proartstickets.org. More info at www.picttheatre.org.