In the trenches with Philip Barry

In A Garden

By Philip Barry
Directed by Dan Wackerman
Peccadillo Theater Co.
The Kraine Theater
Review by John Attanas

In A Garden is an early play by Philip Barry, who later went on to write such high-comedy classics as Holiday and The Philadelphia Story. First produced in 1925, it is the story of Adrian Terry, a wealthy, fortyish playwright who has decided to retire from writing plays. His jealous hack-writer friend Roger Compton insists that Terry keep on writing, telling him he is a dramatist to the soles of his shoes. When Terry demurs, Compton attempts to provoke him with an idea: he states that every man's wife is another man's mistress. Compton then tells Terry that he (Compton) has information that Terry's young wife Lissa had a dalliance when she was a debutante with dashing Ivy Leaguer Norrie Bliss, in a garden in Katonah. As Bliss, now in the diplomatic corps, is going to be visiting them upon his return from China, Terry's jealousy is excited. He then decides to turn his living room into a garden resembling the one the dalliance took place in, in order to see whether his wife still has any feelings for Bliss.

The plays of Philip Barry are not for everyone's taste. At their best they are witty and insightful. Unfortunately, when they are not at their best, they are distinctly old hat. In A Garden is clearly not Barry at his best. While the play is well-structured, and at times humorous, the plot is extremely convoluted and difficult to accept. Produced when Barry was only 29, the piece is clearly the work of a young writer willing to sacrifice heart for head. Although the characters are fairly well-drawn, they seem to be merely pawns in the author's elaborate game, and, save for the character of Lissa, are neither interesting nor sympathetic.

The production by The Peccadillo Theater Company was fairly good, but far from exceptional. Standing out were the costumes by Susan Soetaert. This was especially the case in terms of her dresses for Lissa, which were lovely. The set and lights by Kimo James were attractive but could have been more elaborate for greater effect.

The performances were fairly good all around. Notable was Lillian Langford, who was excellent as Lissa. Trudy Steibl gave a good comic turn as Miss Mabie, Terry's loyal -- and later drunken -- secretary. Among the men, Howard Atlee was perfect as Frederick, the butler. If comedies of manners ever come back, he will work constantly. Jim Scholfield, Dale Carman, and Tom Biglin each gave it their all as Terry, Compton, and Bliss, respectively. The direction by Dan Wackerman was competent.

On the whole, it is hard to do much with a gimmicky, dated play such as In A Garden. However, The Peccadillo Theater Company could have done a little more.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 1
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1997 John Attanas

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