Help yourself to floral imagery as Rover Dramawerks visits Everything in the Garden for the second time in a decade.
Edward Albee's thorny little immorality play blossoms under the hands of director Lisa Devine, a first-rate design team and a cast that is never less than competent and achieves occasional brilliance.
The action occurs in 1958 in Evil Suburbia, where Jenny and Richard are arguing, as usual, over money. They're plainly living beyond their means in that $40,000 home. And what a shame that Richard insists on serving imported vodka (at eight bucks a fifth!) to their rich friends. Jenny would like to take a part-time job. Richard says no. Then, like a reptile in Eden, the British-accented Mrs. Toothe arrives.
Why the accent? It underscores the character's "difference." And, more importantly, it's probably an homage that Albee directed at playwright Giles Cooper, whose original Everything in the Garden debuted in 1962 at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Albee's Americanized version came five years later.
Mrs. Toothe outlines how Jenny can solve her family's money problems. It's simple, really. Mrs. T. is the madam at the local brothel and, well, you get the idea. Jenny gets it, and she's outraged. Ah, but the English lady is not the villain here. It's Old Man Greed. In no time, Jenny is on board with the team.
Carol M. Rice and Jarod Warren, as Jenny and Richard, pursue a delicate balance, as Albee might put it, between comedy, tragedy and outright absurdity. Their acting skills are keen enough that you soon forget that they aren't a believable-looking couple. Matt Gunther, meanwhile, dominates every scene he's in as Jack, the fatalistic and often tipsy neighbor. It's a major stretch from Gunther's powerful portrayal of a grieving father in Rover's Rabbit Hole from earlier this year. Jack speaks to the audience as well as the other actors, and this device is superbly realized.
Mary Tiner speaks a bit too deliberately as Mrs. Toothe, but she conveys the required sinister quality.
The protagonists' country clubby friends arrive in the second act for a cocktail event that quickly turns into an orgy of oneupmanship and, eventually, takes a shockingly unexpected turn.
Jenny's stiffly frocked and coiffed women friends look like they stepped out of the AMC show Mad Men.
Costume designer Suzi Cranford is less kind, however, to the female
lead. Only one of Rice's outfits is remotely flattering. (Was this a
Kimberly Corbett's set mirrors the period with more than a little help from prop designer Dona Safran. And sound designer Richard Frolich delivers just the right level of muted '50s music. He even reaches a bit farther back in time for the intre-act melody: the deliciously appropriate "Love for Sale."