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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Autumn Garden
The two casts, called Dreamers and Idealists, held alternate opening nights last week-end, of which I attended only the Idealists. The tiny Deaf West Theatre was transformed by scenic designer Tom Buderwitz into the parlor and porch of the Tuckerman home. Brocade sofas and chairs are strategically placed beneath carved ceilings. Stained glass windows are indicated. On one side a glass door separates the parlor from a porch with a ballustraded railing. The clever blocking by director Larry Biederman overcomes the narrowness of the small set.
The summer guests we meet: childish giggling Rose (Faye Grant), wife of retired General Benjamin Griggs (James Sutorius); Mrs. Mary Ellis (Anne Gee Byrd), acerbic grandmother of Fred (Joe Delafield) and mother-in-law of tight-lipped Carrie (Jeanie Hackett); Edward (Ned) Crossman, an alcoholic banker (Stoney Westmoreland); Constance Tuckerman, who owns the house, (Lily Knight) and her niece, teen-age Sophie (Zoe Perry), daughter of her late brother whom Constance brought from Europe.
Over the course of three hours, various scenarios unfold. Fred and Sophie, the engaged couple, play out one, with suggestions of homosexuality. His banal wife's fatal disease keeps the General who's longing for escape, tied to her. Ned Crossman represents the emptiest life of all. There are also the late-comers — failed artist Nick Denery (Stephen Caffrey) who's come back to his old home town; his wife Nina (Jane Kaczmarek); a glamorous New York socialite; Constance, who has long harbored the hots for Nick and consents to pose for him again, although he paints a vicious caricature.
The cast is uniformly excellent, from Anne Gee Byrd' who portrays the realistic and demanding matriarch with an underhanded sense of humor to Zoe Perry's highly-strung Sophie for whose superb accent, credit dialect coach Paul Wagar. Faye Grant appalling girlishness strikes the right note as Rose and James Sutorius has an appealing desperate naturalness as the General.
Stephen Caffrey brings a disgusting exuberance to Nick and Jane Kaczmarek as his long-suffering wife accepts with grace his accusation that she has the husband she deserves. Leon is Leona here and played by Saundra McClain with dignity and a dash of asperity. Jeanie Hackett brings a bitter twist to Carrie and, as Constance, Lily Knight has the feverish air of a professional hostess. Her long friendship with Ned never blossoms into love and her love for Nick is exposed as ashes.
So it goes with The Autumn Garden, a place where dreams never come true. Except for Sophie, who blackmails Nina out of $5,000 after a drunken pass bty Nick, no one is singing merry songs at the end. Realism, in Hellman's book, is the province of middle age and, though we live in different, not to say interesting, times, there's no room for happiness. In fact, it's a word that's never mentioned. In Constance's elegiac closing line, "Most of us lie to ourselves, darling, most of us."