HOUSE and GARDEN, Goodman Theatre. Alan Ayckbourn’s latest work is one first-rate dramatic comedy divided between two entertaining but uneven plays, performed simultaneously in adjacent theaters. Ayckbourn portrays a day in the life of a quaint, insular English village. The action is set on the sprawling estate of Teddy and Trish Platt: House (performed on the Albert Ivar Goodman stage) depicts the goings-on in the 18th-century manor house while Garden (played in the smaller Owen Bruner Goodman theater) takes place in the garden. Teddy has been having an affair with his neighbor Joanna Mace, unstable wife of his friend Giles, who’s ignorant of the adultery though Trish is keenly cognizant of it; so are the couples’ teenage children, Sally Platt and Jake Mace. Teddy, who’s being recruited for political office by an old school chum–the serpentine Gavin Ryng-Mayne–dumps Joanna in an attempt to nip scandal in the bud, but the move brings to a boil long-simmering discontents in both marriages and fosters a romance between Jake and Sally.

Director Robert Falls’s able cast brings this story and several subplots to life by scurrying back and forth between the theaters: after Teddy breaks up with Joanna in Garden, for example, he makes his entrance in House. The setup allows for an impressive display of craftsmanship, but the story would be more effective streamlined into a single play. House is by far the stronger of the two scripts, funnier and focused on more interesting conflicts: Sally’s foolish flirtation with Gavin and Teddy’s attempt to disguise from Gavin the fact that Trish is giving him a hilariously elaborate silent treatment. Garden is distinguished by two powerful scenes–Teddy’s breakup with Joanna and Joanna’s confession to Giles–but much else seems like padding.

Though sometimes prone to sentimental philosophizing, Ayckbourn mixes wild farce and cutting social satire in a way that recalls both classic Peter Sellers of the late 50s and the more absurd humor of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. A rich set of characters allows the actors to sink their teeth into their parts, particularly Liesel Matthews and Joe Sikora as the teenagers, Donald Brearley and Barbara E. Robertson as Giles and Joanna, and B.J. Jones as Gavin.

–Albert Williams