House & Garden, Garden & House, thoughts of a frequent traveler

Thursday, 21 July 2011 12:46 AM Written by 

Now it can be told: I’ve been aching to write about PICT’s “House & Garden,” but I couldn’t, because my wife was acting in it as Izzie, the crusty housekeeper with the unorthodox family life. Now that it’s closed, why not?

I may have had a fuller experience of the two interlocking plays than anyone not directly involved, and this is what I learned:

(1) That you really had to see both plays (“House” and “Garden”) to enjoy them properly, no matter what you heard about either of them standing alone. Sure they do, but not very tall. (2) When you see the second, it’s much fuller and, of course, funnier, because you’ve seen the first. (3) Having seen the second, a return trip to the first is also fuller and funnier, because now you know the second. (4) Having now seen the first with fuller insight, a return trip to the second is also funnier and fuller. (5) And so on.

I’m still not sure which it was better to see first. I saw “House,” but for all I know, it might have been better to start with “Garden.” I do know that, in whichever order, “House” is a better play, a more melancholy (under all that humor) insight into the instability of life, especially marriage. “Garden” is funnier or at least more farcical. Then as you get to know both plays, you see how they reverberate with parallel themes, as different marriages crumble or different women break themselves free.

The heart of “House” is Trish’s speech in Act 2, not the one to Gavin (“with a Y”!) on nobless oblige and going down with the ship, but the later one to young Jake on the Maypole as a metaphor for the dance of death. Well, no, this isn’t Strindberg: call it the dance of fearful life.

The equivalent heart of “Garden” is Teddy’s speech in Act 2 to the uncomprehending (but also comprehending) Lucille about the deadening seriousness of life and the compensatory joys of sex and laughter. Out of the mouths of fools . . . or “idiot,” as Lucille calls him in French, which means something different.

By the way, I’ve heard “H&G” called male chauvinist. If so, why is playwright Ayckbourn’s sympathy so largely with the women? Of the five couples, two women (Trish and Lindy) get to break away from stifling marriages, another (Izzie) gets what she wants, and Sally gets an education. Only Giles and Joanna are ambiguous, and you could say he’s the one who needs some freedom and finds it – maybe.

I saw each play three times, I think it was. At the closing performance I persuaded the company (Don’t Try This at Home – I Am a Professional) to let me follow Marty Giles’ track as Teddy, moving from house to garden and back again, seeing all his scenes and everything that goes with them. I’d like to have done this with several other characters, too. “H&G” is a lovely Chinese box of a play -- thanks to PICT for staging it for me!

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