Garden plot

Edward Albee's 1967 social satire still has plenty of sting.

A Theater Under the Influence, the local company that's producing Edward Albee's Everything in the Garden, is unusual even on the eclectic fringe-theater scene. Most of the members are considerably more seasoned than the bright-eyed, young drama-school grads who comprise the bulk of Seattle's non-Equity companies. What's more, the group's main interest is not in whatever new writing is currently dubbed with that shuddersome phrase "cutting edge," but in little-known or neglected plays that are due for revival.

Everything in the Garden

A Theater Under the Influence

ends July 3

I've had my quibbles with some of their past choices, but there's no question that they've more than justified their mission statement with this show. Considering how much press Albee's gotten in the last few years for both his new writing (Three Tall Women) and various celebrated revivals (A Delicate Balance, Tiny Alice), it's surprising that this play has been overlooked. Possibly it's because the piece is a collaboration of sorts, based upon a play by English writer Giles Cooper, and thus being "diluted" Albee. Or perhaps it's the six additional characters which the playwright, working with the confident copiousness that only a child of the '60s could show, only introduces in the last act. Or, most likely, it's because the message of Everything in the Garden, the suggestion that the unthinking drive for material success might be achievable only through unsavory practices, is uncomfortably relevant to our times.

Jenny (Amy Fleetwood) and Richard (James Venturini) are two Long Island suburbanites who are far too nice to spend all their time arguing over money. Or at least so says Jack (Brad Cook), their moneyed next-door neighbor and the most charmingly offhand narrator you've ever seen. (He enters the play late, chats about his own life as much as about theirs, and walks in and out of the action whenever it seems to please him.) Seeing as it's 1967, Richard's not about to let his wife get a job, but he's not making enough to get them the gas-powered lawnmower, the second car, or even the larger house they feel they need.

Enter the enigmatic Mrs. Toothe (Ilene Fins), who catches Jenny's attention via a roll of bills that she pulls from her purse. It's a gift, she explains, $1,000, for a pleasant enough job she has in mind. What sort of work could an untrained housewife do that would be worth that much money? When the answer becomes all too clear to Jenny, she sends the vulpine Mrs. Toothe packing, but the temptation proves too much for her. Months pass, and soon the house is literally crammed with Jenny's ill-gotten gains.

Craig Bradshaw's direction is confident and unshowy, and he's pulled together an outstanding cast—particularly the clutch of party guests who make a late appearance, the women in full '60s regalia (a coup for costume designer Sabrina Rodriguez), and the men, who are, one and all, absolutely insufferable. Venturini and Fleetwood, both fine actors, have rarely had such meaty roles, and Cook's self-deprecating charm is a perfect match for the well-heeled Jack, who is only vaguely tethered to the world of the play. Dana Perreault's set design performs a miraculous transformation of the unassuming Union Garage into an authentic relic of a suburban home that cost too much and gives too little comfort.

There's a pleasant paranoia about the suburban dream here that's got parallels in such classic '60s films as The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby. The belief that only by making a pact with certain dark forces do the two-car garages, perfect lawns, and private schools for the kids become possible was in its own way much more subversive than the draft-card burnings and love-ins of the era. In our time of stock options, four-car garages, and Ludicrously Oversized Home Ordinances, Albee's hits against guilt- and fear-free consumption are downright eerily on target.

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