"Before our grand adventure can begin, I need to know what we're talking about." This past Saturday, I was invited to see In A Garden, Howard Korder's new comedic play, at South Coast Repertory. I was accompanied by my dear friend and Gazette writer, the lovely Lisa Birle. After enjoying a fabulous, unforgettable, Cuban meal at Habana in Costa Mesa, we booked it over to SCR, arriving just moments before the much anticipated rising curtain.
The play begins in the early 90s, set in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Aqaat. The stage is occupied by a small (might I add, beautiful) table and two chairs, with a silver tea set, and an ashtray resting on the table's surface. Behind this central table, there is a distant view of the city and sky that tells the audience of the passing of time. A large, cold, concrete structure encloses the space where the two main characters, Andrew Hackett, an American architect, and Fawaz Othman, the Minister of Culture, will spend their time during the evening's performance.
Mark Harelik and Matt Letscher in Howard Korder's In A Garden. Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR.
In the story, Andrew Hackett (Matt Letscher) is commissioned to build a summerhouse, or gazebo as he prefers to call it, for Fawaz Othman (Mark Harelik), a mysterious man who is never quite clear about what he wants. Fawaz considers himself to be a patron instead of a client; valuing his own appreciation for architecture and his recollection of the past over Andrew's expertise and growing urgency to build. Fawaz hangs tightly to the solace he finds in the childhood memory of his father's garden, a place lined with lemon trees and buzzing with the flight of dragonflies. Andrew's only clear marching orders are to create something that is surprising and inventive - a secret, evocative structure that can stand still in the midst of a spinning, falling, dissenting Middle Eastern world. Throughout the show, the pair intriguingly look out at the audience as they envision the garden space where the summerhouse will be built.
Matt Letscher, Jarion Monroe and Mark Harelik in Howard Korder's In A Garden. Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR.
With cultural and political differences in tow, the architect and the Minister of Culture offer witty banter and bickering, reminiscent of the conflict and humorous feuding between the two leading men in Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. There's male bonding; chain-smoking; yelling; confusion; a hilarious, heightened display of a certain finger; even a display of tears. Andrew's patience wanes as the years pass, frustrated with each overseas trip, and each new presentation of ideas that hits another wall of Fawaz's disapproval. Fawaz crowns himself with a mentoring role and tells his architect, "Without me, you are unfinished." He demands, "I want what the Tempietto is - even if it did not exist." Ain't no big thing, right?
Matt Letscher and Mark Harelik in Howard Korder's In A Garden. Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR.
"There's a great deal in the world that needs reinventing...better buildings make us better people." In this play a talented young man - an artist with a pen and a straightedge - yearns to be inspired by another man's interpretation of history, culture, and his own personal space. The stage casts an environment for truth and trust as we watch the developing rapport between two uniquely matched, hardheaded men; an unlikely pair that is bound to bring a smile to your face. This performance is entertaining and insightful - a big thumbs up in my book!
In A Garden is showing at SCR through March 28th, 2010. For ticket information visit South Coast Repertory online or call the box office (714) 708-5555.
Listening to Vampire Weekend's "Giving Up The Gun"