Theatre is a pretty simple art form. An actor walks onto the stage, expresses his or her feelings, engages others that share the space, and goes into the wing to get some water, a touch of makeup, or to simply change a costume.
Here’s what usually doesn’t happen at the end of a scene – an actor walks off the stage, through the wing, out of the theatre, into another theatre, and performs in a different play as the same character.
In what can only be understated as a unique experience for all involved, this scenario is playing out in Palo Alto by the good folks at the Pear Avenue Theatre, showcasing a regional premiere that opens Friday, Sept. 12th. “House & Garden,” written by prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn are two plays that are interlocked and performed at the same time with the same actors playing the same characters. They can be viewed as stand alone plays, but work best when two nights at the theatre are planned out.
Both “House” and “Garden” revolve around the Platt family, a clan that has lived for generations in a large country house in England. Both plays revolve around a festival, or fête, which is being planned for the grounds of the house. In the midst of the festival planning, chaos ensues while Teddy and Trish Platt, the owners of the house, deal with their marriage that has spiraled out of control.
Performing the plays are the brainchild of director Jeanie Smith, who first saw the shows in Houston and was blown away by their sheer energy. After she saw one first, she could not see the other fast enough.
“When I was watching House, it was so unique to know they are leaving to perform in Garden,” said Smith. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to see Garden,’ and then you get the fuller story. If you see House, it’s a complete play and you don’t feel like you’re missing anything. But if you see Garden too, you get all this additional story you wouldn’t get otherwise.”
As one would assume, doing two shows in two theatres can be a logistical nightmare. Every single aspect of a production has to be doubled, except for the 14-member cast – they play the same respective characters through both plays.
One of the difficulties is that if you are at the Pear, you are not next to another theatre – the Pear is set squarely in an industrial park. Performing a second play required building an entirely different theatre from scratch. So the company did a “search,” and found a willing partner – the aptly named Google.
“This year, Google was not renting out the spaces in our buildings to new people, and there were several units vacant that were staying vacant,” said Smith.
But the Pear is not a new tenant since they already share the grounds with the tech giant. Fortunately, Google agreed to the Pear creating a second theatre space with one of their warehouses, and two plays were born. In came lights, sound, curtains and everything else that a functioning theatre needs.
Dan Kapler has found lots of challenges in playing the role of Teddy. For Kapler, the plays are rich in their nuance, and present both physical and logistic challenges, which he loves.
“I think its great just the way it is written, when you are changing venues, and then there are changes in focus,” said Kapler. “You can’t lose focus for a second. You have everything thrown at you and you are constantly facing a completely different encounter. It’s really unique in my experience.”
Betsy Kruse Craig, who plays opposite of Kapler as Teddy’s wife Trish, does not have to deal as much with the chaotic treks from theatre to theatre. That doesn’t mean she can’t experience challenges when she goes from one show to the other.
“The real taxation is mental for me,” said Craig. “You don’t know exactly where the scene is going to be when you walk in the door, and you have to put everything immediately on pause – where am I, do I enter now?”
For Craig, doing the show is a reminder of another kind of theatre that she has plenty of experience with.
“There’s an element of summer stock to it, when you’re rehearsing two shows and bopping back and forth,” said Craig. “It’s crazy watching all of us navigate through this insanity. I love it, it’s like actor crossfit.”
Kapler finds another theatrical genre comparison that works for him.
“I’m used to this kind of pace in a musical, where I’m always singing and dancing,” said Kapler. “I’m not used to this pace in a straight play. This play tests you, it really does.”
Smith is positively giddy about the opportunity to share this type of theatrical experience. Not only is it a challenge, but also showcases one of Ayckbourn’s most popular works, a playwright who has been frequently produced over the years.
“You are watching pratfalls and farce in one second, and the next second you are feeling for a character that is having a hard time,” said Smith. “His work is so true to the human condition, he understands about the human heart and has all of that brilliant writing in each play.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The Pear Avenue Theatre presents “House & Garden”
Directed by Jeanie Smith
Sept. 12th – Oct. 5th
Tickets range from $20 – $30
The Pear Avenue Theatre
1220 Pear Avenue, Unit K
Palo Alto, CA 94043
For tickets, call 650-254-1148 or visit www.thepear.org