by Evan Karp
Playing now at the American Conservatory Theater is John Rando’s staging of Alan Ayckbourn’s Round and Round the Garden, a comical sex farce and character study set in early 1970s England. The pre-existing rapport of A.C.T.s resident core acting company exploits Ayckbourn’s ability to create strong characters and is the driving force behind this production. The acting is superb.
Although it certainly stands on its own, Round and Round the Garden is but a third of one of Ayckbourn’s most successful plays, The Norman Conquests (1973). Each of the three parts is written as its own play, and each takes place within the same weekend in different areas of the same house. They are not chronological, however; Ayckbourn wrote each Act One first, then Act Two, then Three … and the result is surprisingly coherent.
The action begins when Norman (Manoel Felciano) arrives early to pick Annie (Delia Macdougall) up for their secret romance. He runs into Tom (Dan Hiatt), who is in love with Annie but not courting her quickly enough. Norman is married to Ruth (René Augesen), who is Annie’s sister. A third sister, Sarah (Marcia Pizzo), arrives with her husband Reg (Anthony Fusco) to take care of the ladies’ mother, who is ill, while Annie goes off for her rendezvous with Norman. The others do not know the nature of her excursion, although Sarah finds out and (perhaps selfishly) discourages Annie from going. Norman decides to stay, too, and over the course of the weekend he attempts to bed each of the three ladies … with varying success.
There is talk that it might be acceptable for those married to sleep around—if it’s alright with both parties—although this view is not accepted by everyone. Some believe this type of behavior has the potential to selfishly interfere with other people’s lives and is morally wrong. No matter what the characters profess to believe, however, each seems to have their own personal faults and a strong urge to satisfy them however possible.
The garden is supposed to be unkempt, to represent these wild and untended personalities. But in San Francisco, where we would be thrilled to have a yard and therefore gawk at the incongruously gorgeous representation thereof on stage (complete with a real live insect or two lazily floating over the lush green yard), the setting loses much of its implications, and the mood is closer to an idyllic holiday at some, admittedly peculiar, distant relations’ old Victorian home than it is to any sense of rampant dishevelment.
It is hard to understand why this dialogue on marital affairs would seem poignant now. These are serious issues we take for granted today … to such an extent that talking about them seems antiquated and bringing them to the stage somewhat frivolous. Norman in particular is a fascinating study, and his constant and insatiable need to be loved is certainly worth talking about, but to put him onstage at this time seems akin to giving characters iPads and having them debate the appropriate pricing for eBooks—we understand the issues and will probably not benefit from transposing modern problems into theater. Or, even if we do, it does nothing for theater. There are simply more effective—and appropriate—venues for these discussions.
Is it funny? Yes. It’s a good time. Again: the actors all turn in stellar performances and present characters that are interesting to watch. Each has a different understanding with the need to be loved and with the need to be understood. “Ayckbourn writes very likeable characters who are extremely flawed,” Rando says. “Flawed human nature, well written, tends to make great theater.”
In this case, it makes merely good theater.
Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by John Rando
Featuring René Augesen (Ruth), Manoel Felciano (Norman), Anthony Fusco (Reg), Dan Hiatt (Tom), Delia MacDougall (Annie), Marcia Pizzo (Sarah)
Designed by Ralph Funicello (scenic designer), Alexander V. Nichols (lighting designer), Jake Rodriguez (sound designer), and Lydia Tanji (costume designer)
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
April 29–May 23, 2010
Tue.–Sat. at 8 p.m. (5/11 performance at 7 p.m.)
Wed., Sat. & Sun. at 2 p.m.
Postperformance Audience Exchanges: 5/11 (7 p.m.), 5/16 (2 p.m.), 5/19 (2 p.m.)
OUT with A.C.T: 5/12
HOW MUCH: $10–$82
Premiere | Orchestra | Dress Circle | Balcony | 2nd Balc
Weekend $82 | $72 | $57 | $47 | $27
Weekdays $74 | $60 | $47 | $36 | $18
Weekdays ($17–71): Tues. 7 p.m., Tues.–Thu 8 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., Wed. 2 p.m.
Weekend ($22–$82) Sat. 8 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 2 p.m.
TIX & INFO: 415.749.2228 | www.act-sf.org