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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Theater review part deux: Everything in the Garden at Cox Building Playhouse in Plano

Mary Tiner, Carol M. Rice, and Jarod Warren in Everything in the Garden at Cox Building Playhouse in Plano

Bill Justus

Mary Tiner, Carol M. Rice, and Jarod Warren in Everything in the Garden at Cox Building Playhouse in Plano

"Money's hungry, lonely, wants more of itself." explains Jack to the audience in Edward Albee's Everything in the Garden, "Money always wants more to keep it company. And a little money is a dangerous thing." His voice is coming from almost 50 years earlier, when this play was written, although it seems exactly like something we would hear today. It is almost too ironic that this play with the theme of "keeping up with the Joneses" would be performed in the metroplex.

You don't have to drive very far around here to see examples of this sort of conspicuous consumption. And as a part of their "Season of Premieres," Rover Dramawerks has remounted this production. It was the first show of their inaugural season 10 years ago. Everything in the Garden is now playing until June 12 at the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano.

The setting for this very dark comedy is in the modest late 1950s suburban home of Jenny (Carol M. Rice) and Richard (Jarod Warren). Almost instantly the conversation turns to the subject of money. Moreover, in this case, the lack of it. It seems belonging to the Country Club and sending their only son away to private school has put a squeeze on their single income budget. Jenny just wants to be able to afford the small things like good vodka, decent cigarettes, and a greenhouse. She makes a sound argument for getting a job but Richard simply refuses.

In this script, almost every piece of dialog written in this first part is accompanied by line reading instructions from the author. When hearing it, it leads you to believe that here are two people who have lived together for a number of years that really do not know each other very well.

As if almost on cue enters Jenny's Fairy Godmother, or in this case as smartly outfitted here by Costume Designer Suzy Cranford, The Devil in a Blue Dress. Mrs. Toothe (Mary Tiner) offers Jenny the opportunity to earn a little extra money to come and work for her. By doing what? Turning tricks in the afternoon while Richard is at work. Of course, Jenny is appalled by this idea. But Mrs. Toothe leaves her calling card and $1000.00 cash for Jenny to think on. It doesn't take Jenny very long to change her mind.

Carol M. Rice and Mary Tiner in Everything in the Garden at Cox Building Playhouse in Plano

Bill Justus

Carol M. Rice and Mary Tiner in Everything in the Garden at Cox Building Playhouse in Plano

Flash forward six months and Jenny has more money that she knows what to do with. Confessing to Richard just exactly how she has been earning the extra money coincides with their son Roger's (Parker Conley) return from boarding school and the start of a cocktail party that they are throwing for their Country Club friends. With the unexpected arrival of Mrs. Toothe to the party, Richard soon finds out that not only has Jenny been "entertaining" for Mrs. Toothe but so has all the other neighborhood ladies and with the knowledge and approval of their husbands.

Those of you expecting the typical Albee play won't find it here. Maybe because this was an adaptation from another play written by Giles Cooper. The dialog doesn't offer much for characterization. In spite of that, director Lisa Devine has chosen a very handsome & competent cast.

Carol M. Rice and Jarod Warren both turn in solid performances as Jenny and Richard. Mr. Warren makes a surprising turn from the docile, gentle man we first meet. His anger is met with confusion that will cause the shows final moral dilemma to unfold.

Having the more choice roles here are Matt Gunther as Jack and Mary Tiner as Mrs. Toothe.

Jack is one of the first of Jenny and Richard's Country Club friends we meet. He is also the only character to break the forth wall and talk directly to the audience. Mr. Gunther handles this and the fact the he is always in some form if intoxication quite well. He is the only one of this group who comes from money. Something that will eventually become his tragic flaw.

Carol M. Rice and Jarod Warren in Everything in the Garden at Cox Building Playhouse in Plano

Bill Justus

Carol M. Rice and Jarod Warren in Everything in the Garden at Cox Building Playhouse in Plano

Mary Tiner sinks her teeth into the role of the Madame Mrs. Toothe. By being both charming and merciless she draws the others into her tightly woven web. Just the type of person you love to hate.

And not to forget Parker Conley as Jenny and Richard's son, Roger. Mr. Conley shows great presents and promise at the young age of 13.

The set design by Kimberly Corbett echoes popular mid-century architecture. The floating staircase and sunken in living area gives the impression of the split-level ranch homes built at this time. She also mixed furniture styles. By doing this, she let the audience know that here was a family with not a lot of money but have made the best with what they can afford.

There are some of my contemporaries who think that vintage clothes are not costumes. I tend to agree. Just because a garment is from the period and the actor is able to fit into it does not make it right for the character. In this case costume designer Suzy Cranford had the good fortune of being able to use flawless examples of real garments that were perfect in fit and right for the character. The house of the theater is small so even sitting on the back row I was able to see everything in detail.

Not only were the clothes appropriate but she paid particular attention to the accessories. The hats (including hat pins), gloves, jewelry, and suspenders (with the exception of a few clip-on types) were all costume period correct.

The hair and make-up design by Claude Diaz added the crowning touch. However a few of the wigs overpowered the actresses. In the case of Ms. Wells (Louise) and Ms. Rasmussen (Cynthia), I thought that the hairstyles were way too similar and too artificial for them to pull off as "real" hair. Where was the brunette?

Everything in the Garden may not pack the shocking punch it did some 50 years ago. But the question that sticks with you is this: How much of our morality are we willing to compromise in order to have everything we ever wanted? This is theater that will make you think.

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