House and Garden Brings a Unique Experience to Theatergoers

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trinity-repTrinity Rep is currently outdoing itself with one of the most unique theatrical experiences you’re likely to have anywhere. Right now, both of Trinity’s theaters are occupied with Alan Ayckbourn’s House and Garden, a show about a garden party that features French movie stars, young love, dissolving marriage and a lot of rain. Actors run from the House in the upstairs theater to the Garden in the downstairs theater over the course of the show. One of the more exciting aspects of the show is that it gives the theater a chance to use most of its acting company as well as some incredibly talented consortium students to fill out the cast.

House and Garden is being billed as two stand-alone shows, and it’s true that the two plays are fairly different in tone and style, although they share the same central plotlines and all the characters appear in both productions.  Both are vintage Ayckbourn, including his mastery of farce and the arresting approaches he takes to character relationships.

If you’re looking for an in-depth psychological drama, you may find House more appealing.  It focuses more on the marriage of Teddy and Trish, which happens to be going through quite the rough patch. Teddy’s been having an affair with his best friend’s wife, and Trish is refusing to acknowledge his presence. But, like true WASPS, they’re determined to carry on with their social plans, even though the impending sense of rain seems to mirror the foreshadowing that the day is going to be one long bumpy ride. Teddy’s political aspirations involve a visit from Gavin, a novelist and politico, who rubs Trish the wrong way—and for good reason. Meanwhile, their daughter, Sally, is dealing with her own relationship troubles.

Outside (and downstairs), the mood is a bit lighter, as you watch the garden party fall apart while Barry and Lindy Love (played by Ted Moller and Mary C. Davis) try desperately to hold things together. When the event finally spirals out of control, it’s one of the funniest moments onstage you’re likely to have seen this season.

The wonderful thing about this production is how many indelible moments it imprints upon you after seeing both of its parts. Director Brian McEleney has outdone himself with this massive project; both shows offer a full and satisfying evening of theater while ensuring that all the connections between the two plays are clear without being obvious so that theatergoers can have fun figuring out how things tie together.

Ayckbourn was smart enough to give every character a moment to shine, so each actor is able to create fully realized portraits of people who reveal themselves slowly and in subtle ways throughout the course of the play.  Bridget Saracino and Steven Jaehnert took what could have been bland ingénue roles and imbued them with a sense of depth that was truly impressive. Jaehnert’s comic timing is spot-on, and his scenes with Stephen Thorne and Angela Brazil, who played his parents, were wonderful. Brazil as Joanna does brilliant work in Garden as a woman who’s slowly coming unhinged, and Thorne takes a character who could be construed as a wimp and gives him just the right amount of heart. Joe Wilson Jr. as Gavin gives one of my favorite performances in the show. The more we see of his character, the more mysterious he becomes. His scene in House with the young Sally was both darkly funny and utterly disturbing.

Though this is a fantastic ensemble, the two anchors of the show are undoubtedly Anne Scurria and Fred Sullivan Jr. Scurria’s only large scene in Garden with Joanna, where she informs her that she knows about the relationship between Jo and Teddy, nearly stole the entire show, but Sullivan’s scene with the delightful Phyllis Kay as the French movie star Lucille ended up being the real highlight of the play. The degree of difficulty in performing a love scene where one of the characters is married and neither speaks the other’s language is wildly high, but the two pulled it off with utter joy.

As for the final pay-off in both scenes, I won’t ruin it for you. Suffice it to say, there’s something for people who see both shows as well as for people who choose one over the other. Scurria’s final moment in House was absolutely heartbreaking and wonderfully underplayed, as was Sullivan’s final scene in Garden.

So yes, you can see one show and not the other, but honestly – where’s the fun in that?

 

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