Were you to visit people for the first time, initially you’d be most likely to get to know them where they live, not on the way in through the garden. As for Alan Ayckbourn’s House and Garden, going inside looks like the best way to orient yourself. As you can see from my review of Garden(below),it may have been difficult for Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre audience members on its opening night to easily grasp relationships. So, despite advance publicity claiming that you can start with either play, begin with House. Relationships are the core of the whole thing, clearly revealed in House, which can stand alone, rather than only as part of something divided. Meaning that this feels like one play separated into two unequal parts, Garden a supplement. House could be less decorated and Garden could be pruned.
Ayckbourn certainly wrote interesting, imaginative, clever and sometimes amusing scenes, but the combination looks as if he didn’t want to try to fit everything into a longer- than- usual script. Collectively, the total equals more than five hours of material worth about three and half.
House has substance, good exposition, perceptive and inventive parallels in personalities and developments as well as truly funny moments. And the performances in this basically serious material seem more solid and admirable than those fleetingly seen in Garden.
Here Teddy Platt explores the potential of standing for Parliament and cannot understand nor deal with his wife Trish’s acting as if he doesn’t exist. Their daughter Sally is making an effort to mature beyond her 17 years, including making a pass at Gavin Ryng-Mayne, a successful novelist with government connections; he could help Teddy become an MP. Meanwhile Jake Mace tries his earnest utmost to get closer to Sally. This part of the story also makes clear the long-time close friendship of Teddy and Giles, Jake’s father and the husband of Joanna whom Teddy has been screwing. And Teddy more clearly looks like a buffoon.
The most intentionally comic aspect is Trish’s constantly treating Teddy as if he were invisible, which actually suggests that she’s nearly as dotty as Joanna. It becomes most comic when a roomful of people ignore him, hilariously talking French to visiting movie star Lucille Cadeau, leaving Teddy on the damp other side of the English Channel.
Yet, for too long, the first act consists of long, setting-up serious but unsubstantial talk where very little actually happens. The second, more meaningful act moves better, and includes telling, insightful dialogue from Trish, Gavin and Jake.
David Bryan Jackson, whose performance as Giles is one of the highlights of Garden again brightens up the stage every moment he’s on it. Sean Mellott’s Jake perfectly comes across full of teen-age excess, quite a contrast to Anwen Darcy’s Sally, who, at times, seems much too old to be so young. The suave Gavin is played by Leo Marks, who gives a model performance of subtlety; his reactions say as much as do his words. Meanwhile Martin Giles and Helena Ruoti as Teddy and Trish do everything right and Nike Doukas makes Lucille a genuinely charming delight.
Knowing Ayckbourn’s much-publicized device behind all this can make you admire what he tries to do. That by itself can become fascinating, making you aware of Ayckbourn’s cleverness. Certainly getting to know what’s behind the intricate workings can be entertaining. In fact that may even compensate for what’s missing as the hands of the clock keeping ticking away. i.e You can have a good time, even getting a few things to think about in this occasionally meaningful entertainment. The intricacies within House move well, with such memorable performances and solid direction by Andrew S. Paul.
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