'Autumn Garden' offers little to smile about


I'm not the sort who goes to the theater merely to be entertained, but if I'm going to get depressed, I want to get depressed watching interesting people do and say interesting, depressing things.

Therein lies the problem with Lillian Hellman's "The Autumn Garden," the play currently in production at The Colonial Play ers of Annapolis. Nothing much of consequence happened to characters I really didn't care about and, in a lengthy play, this posed big problems for me.

What we have in "The Autumn Garden" is a bunch of emotional misfits at a small Louisiana resort owned by Constance Tuckerman, a nice spinster who has loved neither wisely nor well.

Among her lodgers is a co-dependent mother and her nebbish of a son, who is engaged to Constance's German niece. Others include a retired army general searching for meaning in his life, his bubble-headed wife who is not searching for meaning in hers, and a hard-drinking ne'er-do-well whose life is nowhere and going downhill from there.

It's a melange of unhappy marriages, busted dreams and unfulfilled potential and, with the exception of one smart-talking grandmother, there's not an engaging, poetic, distinctive character in the whole sorry crew.

Constance's old flame is a washed-up, sleazy artist who gets his kicks by manipulating people, and when he shows up with his wife, he makes everyone miserable and sets in motion the silliest, most contrived blackmail plot any of us has ever seen.

Great drama it ain't.

The cast is variable. Cheryl Kragnes as Constance creates a living, breathing character. Ken Sabel is effective as the alcoholic unable to love, and Jean Comstock is feisty indeed as ** the grandmother. Tim King exudes all the appropriate sleaze as the old boyfriend, and Millie Ferrara is quite good as his wife.

Elsewhere, it's a mixed bag. Lines and rhythm got lost in the mother-son exchange in Scene I. Rose, the general's wife, was impossible to understand at the outset, and the relationship drawn between the southern boy and the German girl had absolutely no dramatic credence. The German accent quickly wore out its welcome and, speaking of accents, it was funny to hear a Boston twang stuck in the middle of all those Louisiana drawls.

Watching such a phlegmatic piece of material, one is always in the market for a smile.

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