POSTED ON JULY 21, 2010:
Good Ol' Switcheroo
The Playhouse Theatre takes on two shows, two stages but one storyline
For its final show of the 2009-2010 season, The Playhouse Theatre is taking on two shows at once: Alan Ayckbourn's House and Garden, to be performed simultaneously in two adjoining theaters by the same cast and crew.
The British playwright wrote the plays in 1999 as a celebration of his 60th birthday. He wanted to "come up with something a bit unusual," he said. And he did.
While each play is self-contained, their plots and characters overlap. This is achieved by having the cast run back and forth between theaters to appear on both stages.
TPT's artistic and managing directors, Chris Crawford and Courtneay Sanders, respectively, chose to produce the plays in hopes of offering local audiences something "different."
"We really fell in love with the convention of it, the trick of it, if you will," Crawford said.
House is set in the drawing room of the home of a well-to-do English couple, Teddy (Crawford) and Trish (Sanders) Platt, who are planning a garden fete for the French film actress Lucille Cadeau (Chelsea Spack).
Teddy is having an affair with his best friend's wife, Joanna Mace (Mindy Barker), an indiscretion his wife is fully aware of. Teddy is oblivious, however, to her knowledge and, therefore, confused by the fact that she has spent the entire day ignoring him.
Pretty soon, the other guests begin to ignore him as well, until Lucille, who doesn't speak English, is the only person who'll have anything to do with him -- and she has a lot to do with him.
Meanwhile, in Garden, set outdoors at the site of the party, Barry (Josh Barker) and Lindy (Kara Staiger) Love are preparing for the party.
Trish confronts Joanna, who is hiding in the bushes, and a number of mishaps befall the crew -- including a downpour of rain, a nonworking fountain and a collapsing tent -- attempting to set up for the party.
Neither Crawford nor Sanders had seen House and Garden produced elsewhere when they decided to put it on. They heard about it, saw other Ayckbourn plays, and decided to stage it for the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's SummerStage Festival.
"Another reason we picked these shows is, really, these theaters are perfect for these two shows, with them being right next door to each other," Sanders said.
House will be performed in the PAC's LIddy Doenges Theatre, and Garden in the Charles E. Norman Theatre.
"Because of the physicalness of Garden, we thought about putting Garden in the Doenges because the space is bigger," Sanders said. "But we ended up flipping it and doing it the way we had originally intended, because we were thinking 'house' is the first name in the title; if people don't hear anything about it and they're just buying tickets for one, chances are the audience for House will be bigger."
As director, Crawford had to determine how to rehearse the plays -- which the cast and crew did for nearly two months -- to best synchronize them and make the transition between two stages easiest for his cast.
"I had to go through a huge thought process on how to do the rehearsal schedule for the show," he said. "What I ultimately decided on is we (staged) Act One of House, and then (we ran) it, and (we staged) Act One of Garden and (we ran) that, and then (we had) a rehearsal where (we brought) them together.
"I'm just excited about the challenge of it and the timing of it," Crawford said. "That's what live theatre's about -- anything can happen. And in this pair of shows, if someone's off or forgets a line or misses a cue, both shows have to make up for it. And that's exciting. I mean, terrifying, but exciting."
To help prepare the cast for the dual performances, Crawford insisted on treating both shows as one play.
"As opposed to two plays, it's just one story," Sanders said.
"For them, they're doing one play," Crawford said. "You're going to see two."
And they've maintained their tradition of elaborate character work, so while the spectacle of the plays is certainly a draw, it's not what they're about. They're about the characters.
"We are creating human beings that are not ourselves," Crawford said. "So we have to think about how complex we are as human beings and the quirky little things we do behind closed doors -- and in front of people sometimes -- and we have to figure out what that is for these people.
"And I think that is kind of our M.O. as Playhouse, is that we try to find the reality and the specificity in all of these people, because that's what people sitting in the audience will relate to," he said.
"And I think one of the great things about these two shows, and I think one of the reasons we're so excited we get to do these two shows, is you can approach it and say, 'Oh, it's a British comedy, so everything's going to be funny.' Or, 'Oh, this is a drama, so everything has to be dramatic,'" Sanders said. "You could type them really easily. And I think if you type them, you lose some of the story -- a lot of the story -- because there are moments that are really funny, and there are moments that are really sad and heartbreaking."
After each performance, the cast and crew of the two shows will host a tea party on the set of House, and audiences from each show may attend and visit with one another about the plays.
"I think that'll help (drum up interest in the shows), if you're sitting in House and you go to the reception and you get to talk to someone who saw Garden," Crawford said.
House and Garden play July 22-23 at 7:30pm and July 24-25 at 2pm and 7:30pm. Tickets to each show are $25, or you can buy a ticket to each for $38. Tickets and information are available at tulsapac.com.
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