When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was dying, I happened to walk by her Manhattan apartment. While family members were holding a death vigil inside, the press and public jammed the street outside.
That situation mirrors the events in Edward Albee's rarely produced 1971 play, "All Over," receiving its Baltimore premiere at Fell's Point Corner Theatre under Steve Goldklang's sensitive direction. Though the scene outside the Kennedy apartment looked like a macabre circus, the bystanders probably assumed the atmosphere inside was more reverent.
Albee's play, however, reminds us that even the beautiful people have their less attractive sides. In the play, the dying patient is a man, who, like the Kennedys, is aristocratic, rich and famous -- though we never find out what he's famous for. Nor do we learn his name or that of the other characters, who are identified only by their relationship to him: wife, mistress, daughter, son, best friend, doctor and nurse.
Furthermore, though the dying man is the reason for this gathering of mourners-to-be, he remains offstage. In that respect, the play differs from Albee's 1994 Pulitzer Prize winner, "Three Tall Women," in which the ailing aristocratic protagonist is very much an onstage presence. "All Over" is also a far less
moving drama, but it is clearly a precursor to Albee's recent triumph, which is one reason it's worth making the trip to Fell's Point Corner.
Actually, the chilliness of "All Over" -- beginning with the )R no-nonsense title -- appears to be part of the point. Not only are the folks gathered not very nice, but as the play progresses we realize that, while the patient is dying physically, they are already dead emotionally.
What makes them of dramatic interest is the sophisticated, civilized veneer that covers their intense self-absorption. Their speech is so formal, it's virtually devoid of anything so common as a contraction. And, when one of them slaps another, she says "excuse me" to the others.
The central character of the wife -- played with brittle elegance by Margery Germain -- not only comes to an understanding with her husband's mistress, she actually seems to respect her. As the mistress, Jennifer Brown is haughty but ladylike; she gets along better with the members of the family she usurped than they get along with each other.
The other characters are less complex. Though John Wright and especially Gloria Henderson make valiant efforts as the repressed, angry son and the nasty, self-destructive daughter, these siblings are so unpleasant there's little leeway for the actors to make them three-dimensional.
Like any death vigil, "All Over" isn't a pleasant experience, but it's an important link in the work of one of America's greatest playwrights. Even so, long before it is "all over," you realize the dying man is better off than anyone on stage.
Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. (No performance Oct. 1.) Through Oct. 22
9- Tickets: $10 and $11 Call: (410) 276-7837