Not 'Everything' it can be
Cast fails to live up to seldom seen Albee play

by Mark Lowry
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

ADDISON - While most expect life in the city to be problematic, living in the burbs is supposed to be smooth sailing. But if Edward Albee's ideas of suburban life are realistic, no wonder people are moving back into urban centers.

In his 1967 play Everything in the Garden, Albee explores a family falling irreparably apart through domino-effect deceptions, all stemming from financial woe. And in true Albee style, he does it in such an emotionless manner that the audience is left stranded somewhere between disbelief, fear and perhaps a smidgen of guilt.

Everything was a flop on Broadway and is seldom produced - probably for no other reason than that, like a good chunk of Albee's plays, it's not a title that's instantly recognizable.

Rover Dramawerks, Dallas' newest company, has dusted off the piece and made a noteworthy debut with a production that's as cold and unfeeling as the set's wood paneling. (That's a compliment.) Design-wise - costumes, hair, set - Rover Dramawerks does a stellar job of capturing 1960's suburbia.

Now, if only most of director Brad McEntire's cast were as discreetly implosive as Albee's characters and text call for.

That criticism isn't aimed at Carol M. Rice, who plays Jenny, the housewife who learns a way to earn extra money for her family. Rice slowly builds from being disheartened to convincingly displaying stilted confidence. As her husband, Steve Roberts has to show more outward emotion, and his shifts show just a little too much expectation on his part.

Rice's performance is rivaled by Jane Willingham, supurbly playing Mrs. Toothe, an enigmatic woman who leads Jenny and three other housewives down a scandalous path, and all with unquestionable class.

Chip Gilliam as Jenny's wealthy friend Jack is miscast in a role that requires more depth than Gilliam's experience allows for. Sixteen-year-old Brandon Weinbrenner does a fine job, however, with Roger, Jenny and Richard's son.

But overall, it's an admirable production of a difficult piece. Pray that Rover Dramawerks doesn't fall into the trap of becoming a theatrical one-hit wonder.

Everything in the Garden continues at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at the Addison Conference & Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Show runs two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $10-14; call (214) 796-9246.