Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Staged Reading: Everything in the Garden

Yesterday I was fortunate in having been able to attend a staged reading by The Peccadillo Theater Company of Edward Albee's Everything in the Garden. This infrequently revived work, which premiered on Broadway nearly a half-century ago in 1967, is actually an adaptation by Albee of a black comedy by the English playwright Giles Cooper. Originally set in suburban London, Albee transposed it to suburban America and transformed it into a scathing, acerbic attack on middle-class American values.

Unsurprisingly, the play is quite dated and Albee's anti-middle class sentiments are often knee-jerk and simplistic, but his genius still shines through and excellent direction by Dan Wackerman and the services of a more than talented cast surmount the play's shortcomings. Michael Hayden as Richard, Susan Jeffries as Beryl, Brent Langdon as Perry, Richard Poe as Chuck, Erika Rolsfrud as Cynthia, Christianne Tisdale as Louise, Zack Wall as Roger, and Michael Warner as Gilbert all turn in terrific performances but three actors deserve to be singled out for special praise: Angelica Torn is charming and delightful as Jenny, the suburban wife who resorts to afternoon prostitution to generate the funds she requires to keep up with the Joneses; Kathleen Butler is manipulatively Mephistophelean as Mrs. Toothe, the madam who employs Jenny; and John Rubenstein is splendid as Jack, the alcoholic neighbor who triggers the play's denoument and who doubles as something of a Greek chorus.

This play is generally considered one of Albee's lesser works, surely not in a class with his Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but it is really much better than its reputation. And this staged reading did it justice. I do not know whether The Peccadillo Theater Company plans to launch a full-blown production of this play following this reading but I certainly hope they do, since it would be a shame to have expended all that talent on a one night stand. If they do, try not to miss it. You won't be disappointed.

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