House & Garden

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Two plays -- designed to be performed simultaneously and involving the same characters -- set in the same English country house on the same cloudy August day, are Alan Ayckbourn's vehicle for a sharp and hilarious scrutiny of the destructive nature of human behavior and emotions. Friends, neighbors, and hired help are gathered in preparation for a garden fête at which the guest of honor, for reasons of which no one is entirely certain, is an alcoholic, promiscuous French movie star. The surly gardener steadily ignores various intrigues being rather noisily conducted in the bushes and garden sheds, the film star's agent is mistakenly assumed to be a chauffeur and is sent to the pub for her lunch, the dog does his share of alerting passersby to covert romantic liaisons, the kitchen maid breaks everything she touches, and an amoral London writer observes the goings-on with a cool and knowing eye. As the action, and the storm clouds, build toward the afternoon's deluge, politics, friship, marriage, sex, children, the interactions of the social classes, and the absurd anachronisms of the remaining landed gentry are all submitted to Ayckbourn's penetrating gaze.