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House & Garden: Venture Theatre players stage simultaneous comedies

House & Garden: Venture Theatre players stage simultaneous comedies

The dilemma facing the audience tonight at Venture Theatre's opening of "House and Garden" will be choosing which play to see first. The two plays, written by the clever Alan Ayckbourn, are intended to be performed simultaneously in two adjacent spaces by the same cast.

"House" is the more serious of the two and is set indoors at the Platt estate near London, while "Garden" is a bit sillier and is set outside on the grounds. Each show is a stand-alone comedy, but the real fun for members of the audience is to come back another night to see what was happening to the characters when they ran next door.

The plays are vintage Ayckbourn. Using the framework of the romantic relationship, Ayckbourn reveals the deviousness of human nature in a comedic way. Love and politics collide, as the English caste system becomes the springboard for constant mayhem.

As difficult as the show is to pull off, veteran director Mace Archer says he was fascinated by the challenge of it and the cast blossomed last week as they worked out the bugs, the biggest of course being the timing. Now, it's up to the audience to rise to the challenge of selecting which play to see - or which order to see them both.

"The ideal way is to go see one and then the other," Archer said. "The real fun is going to see the second one when you know what is going on in the other one. I'm interested to see what people are talking about as they gather in the lobby from both theaters during the intermission."

Archer, who is aided by assistant director Jared Seiss, said he learned of the production years ago before he moved Venture Theatre from Central Avenue into the new space downtown in 2004. It's unique to have a facility with two separate theaters and almost as unique to have a talented pool of actors who can pull off such a production. Archer said that at the same time he was negotiating for rights to produce the play, the University of Wyoming theater department also looked at it, but backed off because it appeared too daunting.

"It's really cool to think that little old Venture Theatre can pull this off when a big university felt that they couldn't," Archer said.

Stage hands are also vital to the success of "House and Garden," especially since "Garden" is performed in the round and there is no backstage area in which to keep props. Rather they're stashed throughout the theater, known as the "black box." Two spotters will sit in on each play while they are being performed to help alert the other cast to the status of the show.

"The main challenge is the timing of it," Archer said. "How do you get an actor or actress from one stage to the other so we don't have another actor left standing on stage? If one play is going faster than the other, they need to tell the actors in the other play to speed it up. There is a rhythm in it and once we get the rhythm going, we'll be fine.

"Alan Ayckbourn is so brilliant. We have a lot of seasoned actors who could absolutely do a comedy in this town any time they wanted, but they were ready for something different."

In addition to the acting challenges, the plays offer difficulties with the set. One set - the "Garden" - requires it to rain. The other set - the "House" - must replicate a 17th Century upper-crust British manor.

"We wanted to create two very different experiences for the audience," Archer said.

Kelly Martin, who plays the author Gavin Ryng-Mayne, said the plays are almost like a murder mystery.

"It's a treat for the audiences," said Martin, who performed in "Irma Vep" and "Zombie Prom" last year. "They can both stand on their own, but when you see them both, it's even better. 'Garden' is wilder; it's over the top but 'House' is hilarious."

"House and Garden" also showcases Lysa Fox, Vint Lavinder, Blaine Jensen and Bobbie Hawk. The cast is rounded out with Sommer Fain, Dina Atwood, Zak Kreiter, Lydia O'Neil, Amy Fladmo, Seth Nehring, Patricia Zirotti, Stephanie Byars, Tina Scariano and Andrew Seeman.

If you go

"House and Garden," two hilarious farces performed simultaneously in two spaces by the same cast, will be presented by Venture Theatre, 2317 Montana Ave., starting tonight and running Saturday and March 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26 at 8 p.m. There will be matinee performances on March 12 and 19 starting at 4 p.m.

Tickets are $8 for students and $12 for adults. Call 591-9535 for reservations or visit the theater's Web site at www.venturetheatre.org for more information.

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