Produced by: Pear Avenue Theatre
Featuring: Kristin Brownstone, Betsy Kruse Craig, Janine Saunders Evans, Brian Flegel, Kurt Gravenhorst, Dan Kapler, Lucy Littlewood, Nicole Martin, Celia Maurice, Briana Mitchell, Nicolae Muntean, Jeremy Ryan, Scott Solomon and Patricia Tyler
Directed by: Jeanie Smith
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and some Saturdays. September 11 through October 5, 2014
Where: Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, units K and H, Mountain View, California
Tickets: $10-$35 (discounts available). Call 650-254-1148 or visit www.thepear.org
but witty and fascinating, 'House & Garden'
Gotta love Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View, which has never let lack of resources stop it from producing good, often brilliant and often fascinating work.
The Pear's production of "Superior Donuts" in 2013, for instance, was easily on a par with the excellent production staged by much-better-funded TheatreWorks in 2010. For "The Tempest" in 2013, director Jeanie K. Smith not only oversaw a good production on a very good set, but took tickets at the door and made coffee at intermission.
And "A King's Legacy" must be mentioned a new play, written by a local playwright, Elyce Melmon, about King James I. You know, the Bible guy. It was fascinating, with a great cast, and an unforgettable scene of King James trying on some of the gowns of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth.
At the Pear, dollars are stretched till the eagle grins. Where some theaters ask patrons to recycle their programs, the Pear doesn't offer a choice: The programs are stuffed into plastic notebooks, and they are collected before people can leave. Crammed into a tilt-up concrete warehouse, one of the bathrooms is a Port-a-Potty around the corner of the building.
Not that the lines will get too long anyway: The Pear only seats 40 people at a time.
Alerted to the fact that one of the other units in their building (now owned by Google) had become vacant, Executive Director Diane Tasca and Smith were able to get their hands on it to stage something they've wanted to do for years, "House & Garden" by innovative and prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn.
It doesn't get performed a lot not because it isn't funny and doesn't have something to say about the degradation of modern marriage but because it is actually two linked plays that are performed at the same time by the same cast, in two different auditoria (the word Ayckbourn uses) in front of two different audiences. The cast races from stage to stage while the audiences stay planted. For the full experience, the audience must attend twice once for "House," and once for "Garden." Or vice-versa.
It has not, in fact, been performed in the San Francisco Bay Area before this production.
"I’ve been wishing I could direct 'House and Garden' for years," said Smith, in an email. "I saw it at the Alley in Houston 12 years ago and was absolutely fascinated by it, and have been waxing poetic about it to Diane for many years although I realistically thought it would be impossible for the Pear to do. But a couple of years ago we started imagining the impossible; and this year it all fell into place when Diane realized that another unit in our building was vacant. AND Ayckbourn just had his 75th birthday. AND no other theatre in the entire Bay Area has done it!!! Amazing."
Smith, who has a Ph.D. in theater and who has taught at college and middle-school levels, met Tasca when Tasca's son was in Smith's drama class at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto. Tasca wanted to start a theater, and when she and Pat Tyler (whose son was also one of Smith's students) found the little warehouse space in Mountain View, they asked Smith to direct the first show, 12 years ago.
It was George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren’s Profession."
"It was a huge hit," said Smith. "We had no idea there were so many hungry Shaw lovers! And we were truly launched."
(In fact, The Pear recently staged Shaw's "Pygmalion," directed by Michael Champlin.)
"House" opened to a sold-out house Friday night, followed by the season-opener gala. It is also sold-out for tonight.
The new auditorium, by the way, is much like the original, a black-box theater with 40 seats. Main difference? No air-conditioning. The Pear is handing out fans for fans to use.
The Pear is offering deals on the tickets, to encourage y'all to see both ends of "House & Garden."
"The Pear’s shows may not have big budgets," Smith said, "But Diane and the rest of us feel that we can still do superior quality productions, and that all people involved should be paid for their contributions. We mine the incredible breadth and depth of local non-Equity talent, for the most part occasionally we hire Equity, but it’s rare. We have no problem getting great talent to audition and perform at the Pear, because they know we will create the best possible show, often innovative and surprising.
"I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard patrons say, 'This was better than when I saw it on Broadway,' or, 'This was better than the A.C.T. version,' etc.
"I have worn many hats over the last 12 seasons, but my favorite, of course, is director and I’ve gotten to direct so many fabulous shows at the Pear opportunities I would not have had elsewhere. Diane’s unwavering commitment to quality and art has developed an atmosphere both creative and challenging."
Email John Orr at email@example.com