WESTON — Weston Playhouse Theatre Company's current production of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn's lowbrow comedy "Round and Round the Garden" completes a Vermont presentation of his "Norman Conquests" trilogy. Earlier this summer, Northern Stage mounted "Living Together" and Dorset Theatre Festival staged "Table Manners." In this remarkable collaboration, directors and venues changed but the cast remained the same as the "Norman Conquests" moved from living room to dining room to garden. The votes are now in: the audience won.
Each play recounts the same story. When, say, a character exits from the dining room, where "Table Manners" occurs, to the living room, that is where "Living Together" is happening. According to the playwright, however, each of the three plays stands on its own.
Last Thursday's preview performance of Weston's take on "Round and Round the Garden" provided a generous supply of laughs and, here and there, a poignant moment. The action was not madcap. Rather, the play offered a fare of two-person scenes featuring clever banter, slapstick and the pregnant pause with happy results.
The play is set in an overgrown country garden behind the home of Annie, who plans to steal away for a carnal weekend with Norman, her lovable unmade bed of a brother-in-law. Annie has invited her straight-laced brother Reg, and his bossy wife, Sarah, to care for their elderly mother in her absence. At the same time, she pines for some sort of display of affection from Tom, her dim bulb of a neighbor who fails to pick up on her obvious romantic signals but nevertheless keeps a steady presence in her backyard.
Enter Norman, who can't keep himself away until the appointed rendezvous and thus stumbles into Tom, then Reg, and then Sarah. When Annie decides that she cannot go to the seaside with Norman after all, Norman determines that he will stay, too. Norman and Annie's plot, of course, is made known to all, including Norman's stylish wife, Ruth, who enters in the second act to put things in order but does nothing of the sort.
Annie was sweetly portrayed by Jenni Putney. Putney's Annie longed for romance but would have settled for some action. The scene toward the end of the second act with Tom, played by David Mason, gave the evening an unexpected depth. Mason, in particular, inhabited a character who doesn't easily communicate emotions. Hilarity ensued with every sentence from Tom that would hang and hang there. For the most part, however, each actor played it straight, permitting the audience to root for Annie and Tom, who are nice people just trying to make it through their daily routines and maybe, along the way, find a little happiness.
Richard Gallagher, who portrayed Norman, showed a flair for physical comedy. Gallagher's Norman, likened by more than one character to an English sheepdog that simply wants attention, does awful things but in a manner that allows the other characters and the audience to almost forgive him because, well, he can't help himself. Norman is a showy role, and Mr. Gallagher pulled it off. It may be that the farcical elements in "Round and Round the Garden" were more in his wheelhouse than the opportunities presented in DTF's production of "Table Manners," where his charm was a tad forced.
Mark Light-Orr played Reg as no deep thinker — a man's man. His stylized characterization provoked chuckles from the audience each and every time Reg interacted with the overly introspective Tom. Caitlyn Clouthier wore the busybody Sarah's haughtiness effortlessly, and so made Sarah's clumsy failure to resist Norman's charms later on that much more understandable.
Ashton Heyt's second act appearance as Norman's wife, Ruth, was a welcome twist. With a shrug, her Ruth accepted Norman for the cad he is and shared her two pence with anyone who would listen, most humorously with Tom, who entirely misinterpreted Ruth's intentions.
Scenic Designer David L. Arsenault's set of the garden and patio behind Annie's home was simply outstanding. There was ivy everywhere outside a lovely stone facade that reached to the sky. Lighting Designer Stuart Duke showed a deft touch as we moved from day to night and back again.
"Round and Round the Garden" is a naughty, but never dirty, comedy. Just the thing for a hot summer evening.
Performances of "Round and Round the Garden" continue at the Weston Playhouse through July 30. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.