Back in the mid-'60s, when Edward Albee wrote “Everything in the Garden,” things were obviously different. The sexual revolution was just under way, women’s roles had yet to be completely redefined, and the hostile reaction to materialism was at a simmer, threatening to boil over.
Although dismissed by critics when the play hit Broadway in 1967, this black comedy (adapted from an earlier work by Britain’s Giles Cooper) was still resonant of the era. The accepted opinion was that “Everything,” now revived at the Garden Grove Community Theatre, marked the first step in the decline of the major playwright who had written the searing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Nonetheless, it was a work of its time.
But now, it seems distractingly dated. Despite the connection with the conspicuous consumerism of recent years, it fails to generate the dramatic contemporary satire it should. The issues raised--keeping up with the Joneses, greedy opportunism at the expense of morality and conflicted attitudes about monogamy and promiscuity--always have relevance, but they come across here as old hat, almost cliches.
To director Ray Williams’ credit, he does try to give the play a timeless feel. No go-go boots, lava lamps or psychedelia in this production, just the fairly upscale suburban anonymity of Ken King’s comfortably arranged set. Williams also gets his cast to leave any ‘60s mannerisms behind--they, too, are pretty anonymous.
But he can’t shake the themes and aura of “Everything.” Maybe he should have radicalized its content, found some way to attach the play to a distinctly modern milieu. But that doesn’t happen at Garden Grove, and we’re left with a predictable tale about a husband and wife living beyond their means, the drastic step the wife takes when she joins up with a local prostitution ring to make ends meet, and the terrible act that follows.
It would also help if the actors were so expert they could get us to believe in the intimacy of the characters. Although Cleta Cohen and Don Casados are animated as the husband and wife, they don’t provide the subtle nuances common to a longtime couple; even when Cohen and Casados are making you laugh, it’s hard to believe that they’ve been married for several years. That makes bonding with them difficult--if we could, their comic predicament might be more appealing, and the play’s denouement more affecting.
There are a couple of good performances. Nancy Williamson is chillingly pragmatic as Mrs. Toothe, the aging but tough-minded dame who runs the bordello. And Keith McCarthy is starchily glib as Jack, the couple’s boozy next-door neighbor and the play’s narrator.
‘EVERYTHING IN THE GARDEN’
A Garden Grove Community Theatre production of Edward Albee’s play. Directed by Ray Williams. With Cleta Cohen, Don Casados, Howard Johnston, Keith McCarthy, Nancy Williamson, Barry Baxter, Felicity Luxton, Chuck O’Connor, Lorraine Pasqualini, Lynn Armitage and Mark S. Beaver. Set by Ken King. Lighting by Lee Schulman. Plays Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through March 9 at 12001 St. Mark St., Garden Grove. Tickets: $6 and $8. (714) 897-5122.