Alan Ayckbourn’s “House & Garden,” is held together on a fairly incredible concept: two separate plays with the same cast going on at the exact same time. Characters run in and out, often screaming, complaining, or mumbling. Plates are shattered, marriages crumble, copious amounts of alcohol are consumed; essentially it is standard dark comedy. Yet with a deft touch for humor and all-around splendid acting, PICT brings “House & Garden” to life, creating a hilarious, chaotic, shallow, but ultimately entertaining look into the intersecting lives at the Platt residence.
Each play centers on a different dysfunctional relationship. “House” focuses on the comical communication problems between Teddy and Trish Platt, who are hosting a fete at the house and garden mentioned in the title. The focus of “Garden,” is the Mace marriage (close friends of the Platt’s), whose relationship is shaken by the discovery of adultery. Weaving between the two quarrelling couples is a pair of young lovebirds, Jake Mace and Sally Platt, who regard their parents with a realistic mix of admiration and revolt. Throw in some eccentric house help, a slick city visitor, and a famous French actress, drizzle with rum, shake repeatedly, and there you have “House & Garden.”
Of the two plays, “House” is a more standard affair, focusing on the Platt legacy. In the house, the characters work to present their lives as clean as the house. It is the more dramatic of the two works and also the more cohesive. In “Garden,” however, characters are not afraid to get dirty, and Ayckbourn’s comical characterization shines. Despite leaving many questions unanswered (and at points succumbing to silly slapstick), I left “Garden” entertained, even moved. David Bryan Jackson brings wrenching sincerity to deer-in-the-headlights husband Giles Mace, and his awkward attempts at father-son bonding are simultaneously humorous and tragic. However, Giles is sadly absent from most of “House,” just as the city slicker Gavin (played appropriately icky by Leo Marks) is virtually nonexistent in “Garden.” Yet this is the nature of “House & Garden” and a full, satisfying grasp of all the characters can only be gleaned through watching both. And with Ayckbourn’s vivid characters, returning to see them again is like visiting new friends.
Still, both plays are riddled with jumps in logic. Characters make brash decisions and change drastically with little motivation. While all of this creates ridiculous comedy, it is often more ridiculous than comedic. While Ayckbourn’s web of intersecting failed relationships are fascinating and funny, the plot is familiar. “House & Garden” has many funny moments, but, after leaving the theatre, the plays are easy to forget. Instead, it is the gears working behind the scenes that make the experience memorable. As both the house and the garden fall into disarray, the actors remain completely coordinated, moving from stage to stage naturally. Even amid the chaos on stage, the actors’ movements from stage to stage are completely controlled. After seeing both, the care Ayckbourn took to create his project becomes clear, as does the actors’ skillful transitions. Through a wonderful ensemble cast and painstaking organization, PICT brings Ayckbourn’s ambitious vision to life. While it may not be life changing or heart breaking, “House & Garden,” underneath its elaborate concept, is pure and simple entertainment.
(“House & Garden” runs through July 17th at the Charity Randall and Henry Heymann Theatres. For more information visit www.picttheatre.org.)