The Artists Repertory Theatre opened their 2007-2008 season with a real crowd-pleaser, sure to leave season ticket holders resting easy about their financial commitment to the arts. It's fluffy stuff, engaging and fast-paced, with a hook that can't help but impress: Alan Ayckbourn's House/Garden consists of two interlocking plays, performed simultaneously by one cast on two different stages. The works can stand on their own, but seeing both of them reveals a deeper and more complicated portrait of the events of one hectic August afternoon.
Teddy (Tim True) and Trish Platt (Maureen Porter) are landed-gentry types responsible for their town's annual summer fete. On one stage, the demands of preparing for an important event are superimposed over the dynamics of a troubled household (House), while on the other stage, the fete itself provides a backdrop for a fast-paced series of affairs (Garden).
House's main plot points revolve around the relationship between Trish and Teddy. Teddy hopes to use the pre-fete luncheon as a chance to advance his political career, but it's on this eventful afternoon that Trish's unhappiness with her insensitive, blustery husband finally comes to a head. On a stage jam-packed with Portland's finest actors (Tim True, Todd Van Voris, Michael O'Connell), House absolutely belongs to Maureen Porter. Her grounded performance combines warmth and pragmatism in a refreshingly complex take on the ol' "unhappy wife" chestnut. Meanwhile, in her Artists Rep debut, Brittany Burch impressively holds her own among the seasoned cast in her role as Sally, Trish and Teddy's bright, self-obsessed teenage daughter.
In some ways, House would be a stronger production without the appended Garden. Some of the scenes in House feel padded—one suspects at points that had the rest of the cast not been required elsewhere, some of the lengthier monologues might've been trimmed. When plot points from Garden do intrude on House, it can be a bit overwhelming—the action in Garden seems significantly more manic than that of House. In general, though, the simultaneous presence of Garden brings an interesting depth to the production—the knowledge that when these characters are offstage, they're somewhere else, doing something else, adds a tantalizing level of complexity to an already engaging show.ALISON HALLETT
If you've ever wondered what a "romp" would look like, Garden is a British romp indeed. As much as House is a drawing-room comedy in which the characters' eccentricities strain against the confines of the room, Garden shows the characters affected by their natural, wilder surroundings.
In the world of House and Garden, everything boils down to sex, love, and the pursuit or absence of both. In Garden, the action is a series of vignettes—as one group of characters finishes a scene and leaves, another bursts onto the stage. Since the actors playing these characters are also a part of the simultaneous production of House, they spend the lion's share of the production onstage or racing from one stage to another.
The manic pace the actors have to keep brings an excited, high energy to their performances. Love affairs ignited and broken, furtive and bawdy, have a heightened sense of urgency that makes the play consistently engaging.
The extramarital affair in House that has Trish Platt ignoring her husband, Teddy, ignites and propels the action in Garden. When Teddy breaks it off with neighbor Joanna Mace (Marilyn Stacey), she slides off the deep end and spends most of the rest of the play hiding in the bushes. Barry (Michael Mendelson) and Lindy Love (Marjorie Tatum), also neighbors, spend most of the first act setting up the backyard carnival and providing short, sharp bursts of comic energy as Barry orders Lindy around and she grows increasingly disenchanted. Joanna Mace's son, Jake (Tyler Caffall), is in love with Teddy Platt's daughter, Sally, and struggles to get her to notice him. The gardener, Warn (Eric Hull), is carrying on a relationship with Izzie (Vana O'Brien), the Platts' housekeeper, as well as her daughter, Pearl (Eleanor O'Brien)—who is also making eyes at the rest of the older men on the scene. A French film star attends the party and proves the full extent of Teddy's infidelity by ending up with him in the fortune-telling tent.
The action is over the top, well paced, and well maintained by this talented and hard-working cast. Ayckbourn's play has had a solid stream of success since it premiered in London in 2000, largely because the play's quality extends far beyond its gimmickry. House and Garden feature incredibly well-crafted characters that provide excellent handles for actors to grasp onto and shine. It's a pleasure to see such a well-rehearsed, dedicated performance from Artists Rep.TEMPLE LENTZ