Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Ivy House by Chris Fontanes, Bottle Alley Theatre Company at the Eponymous Garden, February 25 - March 5, 2013

Austin Live Theatre reviewIvy House Chris Fontanes Bottle Alley Theatre Company Austin TX

by Michael Meigs

The very venue is a dream catcher. This tidy wood-frame two-story house is situated on Garden Street -- hence its bed & breakfast title The Eponymous Garden -- and it's saturated with atmosphere. Owner Sterling Price-McKinney has written scripts for performance here in connection with the Salvage Vanguard Theatre, and this is the location for the SVT's annual fundraiser. 

This isn't the Austin of of the politicians and high rollers who used the Driskill Hotel just off Congress Avenue; it's the Willow-Spence historical district, built by respectable middle-class folk in the 1920's and 1930's, a time when that neighborhood south of First Street and a bit further east from East Avenue (now I-35) was a cordial middle-class community leafy with oaks and pecan trees. You sense that whole lives were lived here in simplicity and virtue.

The Bottle Alley Theatre Company was pleased to be granted the use of this B&B, and they willingly scheduled their performances of Chris Fontanes' The Ivy House on Mondays and Tuesdays, weeknights usually just as idle for theatrical performance as they are for quaint but well-situated little inns.

The cozy spaces of the ground floor don't permit much of a crowd. The company limits attendance to between 12 and 15 spectators each evening. With an acting company of 7, that's theatre up close and personal, and unless you're already an intimate of at least one of the actors, you won't know which of those present will be presenting the connected stories.

The monologues, dialogues and action shift from sitting room to bedroom to stairway to kitchen-dining room and even out to the rear porch. Playwright-director Fontanes lingers nearby and from time to time may direct your attention with a helpful gesture. At times the intimacy of the setting undercut the actors' craft, leading them to deliver lines with a quietness more appropriate to controlled video production than to a situation where a dispersed and moving audience had to be attracted and informed.

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