There is an odd pull that seems to grip you when you watch the play “Garden,” running at the Pear Avenue Theatre in Palo Alto until Oct. 5th. Normally, when I am watching a play, I am focused on the show I am watching. I may or may not wonder about how I would direct it, what I may do differently or how the actors connect with each other.
But here’s where this experience was different. As I watched the show, I was keenly aware that another show with the same actors playing the same characters was going on just a few feet away. It’s a unique experience to say the least, and something that certainly stays with you while you sit in either one of the two theatres.
The hallmark of many a show at the Pear is the style often relates back to the words that are used. Playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s duo of plays is certainly filled with plenty of words, and in moments, got to be too wordy. But director Jeanie Smith confidently maximized the talents of her cast, with many strong acting performances taking place in the makeshift theatre next door to the Pear’s regular stage.
“Garden” focuses on the preparations of the festival, or fête in the garden of the Platt family, who are having their own marriage issues, namely the infidelity of Teddy Platt (Dan Kapler), who is busy chasing the lovely Joanna Mace (Kristin Brownstone), a woman who has an incredible knack for hiding in the shrubbery. In the midst of Teddy’s penchant for chasing down the ladies, we meet his wife Trish (Betsy Kruse Craig), who seems perfectly content with Teddy looking for love in all the wrong places.
The strength of “Garden” is the fact that it’s all about its fits and starts. Lindy Love (Janine Saunders Evans) and her jovial husband Barry (Brian Flegel) are having their own issues, even though Barry doesn’t seem to be much aware of what those issues are. Barry is busy getting ready for the big day, despite the fact that he seems to be doing a lot of the laborious work on his own.
Many strong performances were at the center of the piece, with a lot to like in the way of the dialect work, as the play is set in England. Flegel’s Barry had plenty of nuance, with the oddities of his entrances and exits providing delicious comedic morsels. Nicole Martin’s portrayal of Lucille Cadeau, who prances merrily in one of those sultry red dresses, required some serious French speak, as well as a delightful stage fight with Brownstone. There were also some warm, humor-filled scenes that took place between conflicted kid Jake Mace (Jeremy Ryan) and his neurotic and painfully unconfident dad Giles (Kurt Gravenhorst).
The play is not one that is full of belly laughs, but more in the style of a comedy of manners. It is certainly enough to find lots of warmth coming through the organic humor. And as an ensemble piece, which it has to be when it comes to pulling off two shows at the same time, the piece works swimmingly well, flowing smoothly on Jaime Giovannone’s brightly green set.
There was certainly a temptation to sneak over and watch one half of one show after watching the first half of “Garden.” Watching both plays is certainly recommended, and will feel as if the entire experience is complete.
On this night, as I exited the theatre after watching the curtain call, the cast hurriedly ran out and ran next door to get in the next curtain call for “House.” And as I walked towards my vehicle, all I could think was, “That is so cool.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The Pear Avenue Theatre presents “House & Garden”
Directed by Jeanie Smith
Sept. 12th – Oct. 5th
The Word: A joyous piece that requires serious commitment from its performers.
Stars: 4 out of 5
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