According to director Stephen Rayne, Alan Ayckbourn is the most popular playwright in his native England. "Huge. More popular than Shakespeare," Rayne says. And he's not the most-produced playwright in the UK simply because his small-cast plays are affordable for regional theater. "He absolutely has his finger on the pulse of English lower, middle-middle and upper-middle classes," Rayne says. "I think in a few years people will realize he was a wonderful chronicler of his times."
To describe Rayne's twin productions of Ayckbourn's House and Garden at the Alley Theatre is a story in itself. The two plays are meant to be performed simultaneously on separate stages, with actors running back and forth, following a consistent story line. The catch: The audience of the one has no idea what's going on in the other. "The plays work perfectly well independently," Rayne says. "Then whatever play you see second, you'll get that much more fun out of." It's a good marketing device too -- or at least it has that potential.
There were only two occasions where actors didn't make their cues in the first technical run-through. But the clever setup has created other problems. Since the arena stage seats only 296 to the large stage's 824, Garden is likely to sell out long before House. Rayne has no idea what they'll do if that happens.
"The crazy thing is you can't really say, 'Well, we'll do more performances' Well, you could do that. You could just do Garden, I guess, but I've directed them in such a way that they feed off each other. It's a symbiotic relationship between the two. Everyone would have seen House who wanted and they haven't seen Garden " Rayne becomes flustered by the logistics. "Look, it's not my problem," he says, laughing. Besides, he adds, "that's a good position to be in."