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A CurtainUp Review
House and Garden

-- House and Garden Takes Over Manhattan Theatre Club's Stages I and II

The interconnected House and Garden come to Manhattan Theatre Club with the same tricky concept as in its London production (review below) but with a completely new team. Instead of playwright Alan Ayckbourn at the helm, there's John Tillinger.

The set-up of the two MTC stages is well-suited to the unusual linking of the plays. Stage manager headaches seem to have been skillfully kept to a minimum, although there remains much sport for the actors in sprinting from one stage to the other. For the audience, the only exercise is in checking the playbill when there is a stage full of actors, to figure out who could possibly be left in the other venue!

The central couples on both stages have been well cast: Nicholas Woodeson and Jan Maxwell as the Platt's in House, Michael Countryman and Veanne Cox as the Mace's in Garden. Maxwell has perhaps the single most demanding role, Woodeson the funniest; Countryman and Cox play almost in counterpoint -- he laid-back and naive, she, as Lizzie Loveridge described in the London production, fraught and manic). Daniel Gerroll is outstanding as the visiting Gavin Ryng-Mayne. Also deserving special mention is Carson Elrod, who plays the Mace's son, Jake.

There is no scaling of intellectual heights here, but it's well-made fun, some quite brilliant.
--- Les Gutman

Playwright: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: John Tillinger
Cast: Patricia Connolly/Izzie Truce , Michael Countryman/Giles Mace, Veanne Cox/Joanna Mace , John Curless/Barry Love , Laura Marie Duncan/Pearl Truce, Carson Elrod/Jake Mace, Daniel Gerroll/Gavin Ryng-Mayne, Bryce Dallas Howard/Sally Platt, Jan Maxwell/Trish Platt, Ellen Parker/Lindy Love, James A. Stephens/Warn Coucher, Olga Sosnovska/Lucille Cadeau, Sharon Washington/Fran Briggs, Nicholas Woodeson/Teddy Platt plus a gaggle of children
Sets: John Lee Beatty
Lighting: Duane Schuler
Costumes: Jane Greenwood
Sound: Bruce Ellman
Music: John Pattison
Dialect coach: Elizabeth Smith
Fight director: Rick Sordelet
Running Time for each: 2 hours plus intermission Manhattan Theatre Club (House-Stage I, Garden-Stage II) at City Center, 131 West 55th St. (6th/7th Aves) 212/ 581-1212. web site
4/26/02-7/14/02; opening 5/21/02.
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat & Sun at 2:30pm; Sun at 7pm-- $60 (House),$50 (Garden)

---Our Original London Review by Lizzie Loveridge

The English playwright, Alan Ayckbourn has written two interlocking plays, House and Garden to be played by the same cast in two different theatres at the same time. The idea is certainly an interesting one, a kind of follow through on Tom Stoppard's device in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead showing what two minor characters are doing when they are not on stage in Hamlet. What Ayckbourn does is to present different aspects of the same characters by placing them in two distinct settings, a manor house and the large grounds of the same house. It is a great technical feat to exactly time the speeches and exits and entrances so that the whole operation runs smoothly. I suspect that Ayckbourn found this personally very challenging and intellectually fascinating rather like the setter of The Times cryptic crossword puzzle. It is also to the credit of the cast that they have to cover the distance between the two theatres and arrive at the other stage as unflustered as possible. The curtain calls must have been especially hairy.

This said, one must ask, what does all this do for the audience? Does it justify the expense of seeing two plays as opposed to one, of spending over four hours in the theatres? I think not, as the energy generated by both playwright/director and cast goes unseen but is sucked into the abyss. That is not to say that Ayckbourn has not written two witty plays but only that it lacks the excitement of a theatrical coup.

I saw both plays in one day, Garden at the matinée and House at the evening performance. For my money House, which is about politics and a marriage in dysfunction, is the more interesting of the pair. Garden is, as Shakespeare might have said, about country matters. Men and women "carry on" in extra-marital affairs in their sexual playground, the garden.

In House, the owners of the manor house, Teddy Platt played by the indefatigable David Haig and his wife, Trish Platt (the smooth Jane Asher) are locked in an unhappy marriage. Trish has decided to ignore her husband altogether and much of the humour is derived from her, not only not talking to or hearing anything he says, but apologising for leaving a guest on his own when her husband was with him. A party politican and novelist, Gavin Ryng-Mayne, (Malcolm Sinclair) a man devoid of emotion with the warmth of a snake who has a predilection for little girls has been sent to persuade Teddy to stand for election in his local constituency. Trish and Teddy's seventeen year old daughter, Sally (Charlie Hayes) is showing an interest in politics and is out of her depth with ghastly Gavin.

Garden is filled with frolicking. Teddy dumps his mistress, Joanna Mace (a fraught and manic Sian Thomas), for new flirtation with Lucille Cadeau, (the luscious Zabou Breitman), the recovering alcoholic actress sent to open the Garden Fête, Joanna's doctor husband (a limp Michael Sibbery), tries to understand his mad wife. Pearl Truce, the maid (voluptuous Nina Sosanya) flirts with everyone, including her step father, the gardener, Warn Coucher (horny handed Peter Laird). Colin and Deirdre Mallow (the obsequious Robin Browne and the mouse like Leonie Wilde), are a rather sad shell suited local vicar and wife toiling away setting up the fund raising event.

Ayckbourn's humour is well tried and very popular. Many of his more than fifty plays satirise middle class, Southern England for "middle of the road" audiences. You can expect lines like, "You are welcome to ruin my marriage but if you ruin my luncheon party I'll never speak to you again!" from Trish Platt. It is like the very best of BBC television situation comedy, well written, expertly performed with great timing and lovely sets, but for me lacking in pathos.

By way of a special celebration, each night the audience is invited to join the post performance fête in the foyer where stalls have been set up, manned by the actors and you can try your hand at "Bat the Rat" or "Hoop La", buy a pint of beer or a home made cake, in aid of a children's charity. Great fun!

Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn
Cast: David Haig, Jane Asher, Sian Thomas, Michael Siberry, Charlie Hayes, James Bradshaw, Malcolm Sinclair, Adrian McLoughlin, Suzy Aitchison, Zabou Breitman, Alexandra Mathie, Peter Laird, Antonia Pemberton, Nina Sosanya, Robin Browne, Andrew Fallaize, Penelope McGhie, Trevor Nicholls, Deborah O'Malley, Leonie Wilde.
Set Design: Roger Glossop
Costume Design: Christine Wall
Lighting Design: Mick Hughes
Sound Design: Colin Pink
Running time: Each play, Two hours ten minutes with one interval
National Theatre
Box Office: 020 7452 3000

Booking to 23rd September 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th August 2000 performances of Garden in the Olivier and House in the Lyttelton
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