Gurney's Inn
January 17, 2007

Everything in The Garden Blossoms At The Hampton Theatre Company

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Picture the Hamptons as one visualizes a sea of perfectly manicured lawns, a palette of planted gardens bursting with lush perennials. What insidious evils lurk behind the lavish displays of color?

This is an enigma posed by playwright and Montauk resident Edward Albee in his dark comedy Everything in the Garden, presented by the Hampton Theatre Company through the end of January.

Albee's work, which first premiered in 1962, invites audiences into the 1960s suburban home of Jenny and Richard, a couple struggling to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, to maintain appearances while struggling to get by.

Despair over financial woes simmers beneath the surface of Jenny and Richard's carefully polished lives, sparking discontent and spurring a drive to do whatever it takes to stem the tides of impending financial disaster. Expenses loom large, in the form of costly country club dues, camp fees for their son Roger and top-shelf liquor tabs. Jenny, reduced to saving coupons from discount-brand cigarettes, yearns for a greenhouse. And, of course, wouldn't life be ever so much more pleasant with an electric mower, all the better to keep that all-important lawn perfectly presentable?

But how deeply rooted in the garden of the human spirit is the insatiable hunger for money? How far will greed drive an individual to go?

Albee, who grew up in Larchmont, New York, turned his back on suburbia and headed to Greenwich Village, where he emerged as a luminary on the American theater scene with works like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He has described his work as "an examination of the American scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty and emasculation and vacuity, a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy keen."

The Hamptons, where the quest for money and social status has driven those whose mansions and luxury cars dot the East End landscape, is an ideal venue for Garden, said director and HTC producer Sarah Hunnewell. "The group out here, particularly, is very proud of the fact that a lot of them have made it."

When, in Garden, Jenny and Richard find themselves driven without a moral compass to a dark, sinister destination, all in the name of the almighty dollar, Hunnewell said startling truths are revealed. "That's what these people are all about they have no morals whatsoever."

The show is the latest offering from the Hampton Theatre Company, a not-for-profit organization founded by James Ewing, James Irving and June Ewing in 1984. Originally without a permanent home, the company performed its first piece at the Westhampton Beach Elementary School.

The organizers found themselves in all manner of venues, including a tent pitched behind the Masonic Temple on Montauk Highway in the middle of a hurricane, until 1987 when the company was granted use of the Community Hall in the village of Quogue. Even when Quogue began an extensive renovation of the community hall six years ago, HTC's schedule continued, with the company performing at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center and Guild Hall.

Today, the group is back in Quogue, happily ensconced in their new, "wonderful" space, said Hunnewell. "We have dressing rooms now, downstairs. In the old space, people used to dress in the cold, dark basement. It was fairly primitive."

With a slate of over 60 shows produced since the HTC's inception, "we've done a pretty adventurous group of play selections over the years," said Hunnewell, a former architect who joined the group in 1990 as an actress and evolved as a director, taking on an enhanced managerial role in the company.

The mission of HTC, said Hunnewell, is to present a plethora of productions ranging from new plays to classics, comedies to dramas.

Everything in the Garden is an adaptation of an English piece by 1920s playwright Giles Cooper, and, though the anti-suburban theme is typical Albee, audiences will find the piece infused with humor. "This play is more accessible than many of Albee's other works. It is dark, but it is also just very, very funny," said Hunnewell.

As a director, Hunnewell seeks to honor the playwright. "I don't believe in taking a traditional piece and trying to do something avante garde, or trying to put my own stamp on something. Many contemporary actors believe paraphrasing is fine and their words are as just as good as the playwright's. I take a very dim view of that."

In the end, Hunnewell hopes audiences will leave the theater smiling. "Most rewarding," she said, "is when the audience loves the show and has a great time."

Cast members include Ellen DiStasi, Cathy Decker, Jessica Elwood, Billy Finn, Gordon Gray, Claire Lyons, Matt Palace, David Seiniger, Roy Timmerman and Sue Vinski, with sets designed by Peter Marbury, lighting by Sebastian Paczynski, and costumes by Teresa Lebrun.

Everything in the Garden will be performed through January 28 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Sunday afternoons at 2:30. For further information, ticket prices or to reserve seats, call the Hampton Theatre Company at 653-8955.

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