Today all anyone ever seems to be talking about is the economy — money problems. It fills the newspapers and the speeches of the political candidates. Yet one of most effective commentaries I’ve seen recently about the prominence of money in our lives was at the University of Maryland’s performance of Edward Albee’s Everything in the Garden. The production was directed by Scott Reese.
Despite some rather “stagey” performances from some in the cast, overall, the production was highly effective. Albee’s play is both a comedy of manners and a farce, set in suburban Westchester, New York in the late 1960s. We follow Jenny and Richard as they cope with money problems and the problem of keeping up with the Jones’s, and the consequences of choices made in order to keep up with said Jones’s.
The cast included Laura Gepford as Jenny, John Wahl as Richard, James Sakamoto-Wengel as their drunken rich friend Jack, and Juliette Ebert as Mrs. Toothe. Although their performances at the beginning seemed rather studied and over-acted, they seemed to disappear into their roles as the play went on. I was especially impressed with John Wahl, as he reacted to the news of what exactly his wife has done to try and alleviate their money problems. Over-the-top it may have been, but such an overflow of emotion at the same time helped me to connect with the character and the betrayal that he feels.
James Sakamoto-Wengel’s performance was also noteworthy and he managed to provoke the biggest laugh of the night, while also giving perhaps the most nuanced performance. His character – and the dimensioned portrayal – served as the emotional touchstone and helped to ground the farcical qualities of the other characters.
The design of the show served well to support and underscore the play, while not being distracting due to Scenic Designer Collin Ranney. Lighting Designer Jedidiah Roe used the lighting effectively to communicate the mood of the scene, while the costumes designed by Aryna Petrashenko were beautiful, an interesting contrast to the decidedly un-beautiful characters of the people in the play. The music however was excellent – both before the play began to set the mood, and throughout as it underscored and enhanced the action happening on stage, thanks to Sound Designer Neil McFadden.
However, the play itself was what most made an impression. Especially with the current economic crisis, this exploration of what we will do for money, and how money or lack of it influences everything in our lives, really resonated. The unthinkable suddenly becomes not just thinkable, but even desirable. Without ever moralizing, Everything in the Garden leaves the modern viewer with much to think about.
Everything in the Garden plays through tonight March 10, 2012, in The Ina & Jack Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland – at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193, in College Park, MD. For tickets, call (301) 405-ARTS (2787), or purchase them online.