Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Gardener in Love"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark

"A Gardener in Love"

by Alan Ayckbourne
Directed by Polly Hogan

Costume Design by Janie E. Howland
Lighting Designed by Robert Daniel Cardoza
Stage Manager Ian McColl

Celia Teasdale/Sylvia Bell......................Marilyn Mays
Lionel Hepplewick/Toby Teasdale.....James L. Walker

Matinee audiences are reputedly rough, but during the interval of this comedy I remarked quite honestly "These people think the show is so funny they can hardly keep from smiling!" The fact that two people were playing four roles was funny. Their couplings and permutations of possible couplings was funny. What they were saying was funny. It was one more clever Alan Ayckbourne theatrical game, and even the fact that the characters were paper-thin was funny. Yet, since I hate to lead laughs all alone, I sat for half an act amid respectfully smiling people who stubbornly refused to crack a laugh. Everyone connected with the show deserved better.

Here we had a groundskeeper and amateur gardener come to spiffy-up the back yard of a sedentary, dispeptic curmudgeon of an elementary school's headmaster, and making a play for the menopausal wife in favor of their part-time housekeeper, who thinks she's the gardener's main squeeze. Both women played by Marilyn Mayse, both men by James L. Walker. There were costume changes and a wig, but no real vocal shifts. Director Polly Hogan apparently elected to take the audience in on the joke, and so characters looked and sounded alike, but the style of delivery and their body-languages changed --- as well, of course, as the kinds of things they had to say.

Of course, the playwright was so busy writing not one, not two (Hogan decided to do only two) but eight different comedies he expected to be played on alternate nights in peripatetic rep --- so busy with his games, I said, that plots and motivations for characters get bumped about more or less as afterthoughts. The wife is bored with a husband she cannot stand but cannot leave, and the romantic who tempts her to is a blowhard bumbler with no hope of becoming a provider. Everyone is always running to the brink of adventure, and steppng back into their same old ruts.

Maybe the Sunday matinee crowd actually saw this play more clearly than I did!


"Intimate Exchanges" (28 - 13 June)
"A Gardener in Love" (28 May, 2, 3, 9 & 11 June)
"The Self-Improving Woman" (27 & 29 May, 3 & 5 June)
Pine Manor College, 400 Heath Street off Route 9, CHESTNUT HILL

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide