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Dallas by John Garcia

Everything in the Garden

In Edward Albee's Everything in the Garden, set in the late 1960s, we are brought into the wood paneled living room of Jenny (Carol Rice) and Richard (Steve Roberts), a suburban couple dealing with what every person can relate to: bills and not enough money to pay them. The play brings out several dark questions. How far will you go to get that money? And at what cost? Are you willing to use your body? The body of a loved one? Can you deal with murder? That is what Jenny, Richard, and their circle of friends unleash for the audience to decide. 

The play itself comes with a terrific second act, but the first act is weighed down way too much with exposition and with a character named Jack who is never totally fleshed out. That second act, though, is a pure fire of solid acting, and it unveils delicious subtext that leaves you questioning yourself. But the irony is thick in this play. These snotty and holier-than-thou suburban couples spew out their hatred and contempt for Jews and other minorities and yet the wives are prostitutes, selling themselves to "keep up the Joneses". 

Director Brad McEntire's blocking is right on the target. He moves his actors all over the single, small set, using every inch and furniture piece for them to work with. He moves his actors as normal life would have them move to stage right or left, not because he has to. McEntire's use of subtext blocking is grand as well. Example: when Richard finally comes to the realization that everyone in his house is involved in a prostitution ring, either as a hooker or as the husband of one, McEntire has the entire cast surround Richard, i.e., a "the lions are in for the kill, either join us or die" kind of theme. 

McEntire also has his cast overlapping each other's dialogue during some line readings in act two; I loved that. The audience felt like they were at an actual party! His last blocking moment, with the couple looking at the garden at the end of the production, and the light streaming through, was just perfect and very symbolistic. Bravo Mr. McEntire! 

McEntire, alas, is stuck with a dreadful first act to work with. It's not the fault of the actors or the director; that first act is just extremely weakly written - so much exposition to get the best part, which is act two. 

The play is set in 1960, but Director McEntire costumer Jan T. Slade did not let that scare them in costuming - the costumes are perfect! The dresses are crisp and starched with patterns of that era. One actress (Jane Willingham) is dressed in eye catching Jackie Kennedy replicas! The men's suits have the right lapels, cut and form, the shoes all are pointy, and the ties are slim which really gives a 1960s feel. Slade's costumes add so much the evening and the costumes are topped off with period hairstyles as well. The women's hair is piled high, blown dry to jiffy pop proportions and sprayed with enough Aqua net to make Jackie proud. 

Performance-wise the cast, for the most part, were outstanding. Carol Rice and Steve Roberts head the cast as the central couple. Ms. Rice is quite good as the wife who decides to sell her body to provide a better life for her family. With her blonde hair in an upswept fashion, crisp starched chocolate skirt and sweater, she represents the all American housewife. 

I saw Mr. Roberts in GCT's Last Night At Ballyhoo and thought he was wonderful in the production. Here he again delivers a splendid performance. Roberts' role has the best written arch in the piece - a man who is the voice of reason on this island of sick lies and sex. The role could easily have gone into over the top hysteria, but Roberts keeps the pain deep in his soul, only letting it escape when it's too much for him. When Roberts finally explodes, the theatre is full of this man's anger, disgust, and pain, and you feel very drop of contempt and anger. 

Rice and Roberts have quite believable chemistry together. But both actors, along with Chip Gilliam as Jack, carry a lot of the first act alone. The pace is sluggish and too slow for those first 30 - 40 minutes. It needs to be picked up so much more, the exposition needs to push forth quicker and faster, so when we get to an honest "dramatic" pause or moment, we can relish it. It takes awhile for both actors to warm up, but when they do, it is explosive to say the least. The energy and pace does finally get on track when Jane Willingham enters the stage. 

Jane Willingham is magnificent as Mrs. Toothe, a lady who turns out to be the madam of the "brothel" that Rice and the other women work for. Mrs. Toothe has a very direct businesslike approach to her "job". She deals with ladies as a mother hen, or as the chairperson of their tea and cucumber sandwiches club. But with the men, she is as cold as the one cube of ice she requests with her drink. When murder occurs in the second act, she is the one who tells everyone (with ice cold precision) what to do. A British dialect can be an actor's nightmare, but Willingham's accent was top notch. 

I just could not make heads or tails out of the role Chip Gilliam is given, that of Jack. I don't know if this because of the actor's performance or the way the role is written. Gilliam, who looks a little like like Rowan Atkinson, speaks in a sort of "fey" voice that was not aided by Gilliam's swallowed and mushy diction. I really had a hard time understanding what the actor was saying. Jack is the only character who talks to the audience though it is never explained or even hinted at as to why he does this. Was he the voice of reason? If so, it needs to be more defined. Gilliam's pace and energy is too slow; he needs to move with purpose. 

Brandon Weinbrenner gives an enjoyable performance as Roger, the son of Jenny and Richard. 

Nancy Slater Roberts (Louise), Cynthia (Karyn Lush), and Laura Jennings (Beryl) portray the wives who also work as prostitutes. All three actresses give solid performances. Jennings seemed to peel the subtext of her role deeper than her co-stars. She gives Beryl all a "kissy, kissy" theme at the party, just giggling and talking, but you see the contempt in her face at the mention of something she doesn't like or approve of, yet she's a hooker! Its not over the top or fake, but it reads like a woman who wears white gloves to not touch something dirty, and yet she's a whore. I felt Jennings really got that subtext. 

The husbands of these women were played by Matt Roberts (Perry), John McCurdy (Gilbert),and Jimmi Wright (Chuck). All three actors were extremely believable and delivered honest performances. But out of the three, Wright and Roberts really were "in the moment" throughout the piece. Wright's character is in finance and marketing, but he reminded me of a bigoted and oily car salesman. Wright kept this salesman theme right on his sleeve, and it worked wonderfully during the realization that his wife's "career" might come to an end. 

Matt Roberts' Perry, with glasses, dressed in a great suit, tie, and argyle socks, is played more reserved than the other men, which provides balance. Roberts gives Perry the softer quality of a man who goes with the flow. Even when he is not the focus, he keeps his character whispering or reacting with honesty to what is unfolding in front of him. 

Overall, I honestly did enjoy this production very much, though the first half hour of act one really does take a toll on the audience. Once the heart of the piece kicks in, the production really takes off. 

This is the first production for Rover Dramawerks, and for the most part, they have a winner. I wait with great interest for their future productions. With Everything In The Garden they are a welcome new member into our theatre family. 

Everything in the Garden
By Edward Albee
Plays Through July 21, 2001
Rover Dramawerks
Addison Theatre Centre
15650 Addison Road
Call 214-796-9246 for tickets and information. 

Directed by Brad McEntire
Stage Management by Lynn Mauldin
Produced by Jason Rice
Costume Design & Construction by Jan T. Slade
Set Design by Daniel Slade & Jason Rice 

Jenny..............Carol M. Rice
Richard............Steve Roberts
Jack...............Chip Gilliam
Mrs. Toothe........Jane Willingham
Roger..............Brandon Weinbrenner
Beryl..............Laura Jennings
Chuck..............Jimmi Wright
Louise.............Nancy Slater Roberts
Gilbert............John McCurdy
Cynthia............Karyn Lush
Perry..............Matt Roberts 

--John Garcia


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