(photo credit: Maxime Coté)
How does Jenny’s Garden Grow?
The Golden Age...that never existed
by Nanette Soucy
Richard is a man with an idea of manhood that dates from a golden-age that had become mythical, even by the 1960’s where his story takes place, and when Edward Albee adapted Everything in the Garden for an American audience. A man has a good job, a nice life, a kept wife who keeps house and up with the Joneses. A real man commands respect from his wife, his son, his neighbours.
Where a “real man” may use force when control is lost, Richard is the type who uses it to assert control, and in doing so, lets it slip away completely.
But this golden-age never existed. Even surrounded by the sleek, airy femininity of Jeong Hwa Ryoo’s elegant set, in the middle of this ticky-tacky box on the hillside, is a patch of grass far from manicured, that creates a trip-hazard of a living room rug around which Richard and his lovely wife Jenny struggle to stay upright and maintain the illusion of tidiness and decorum, while living beyond the means to maintain it.
We come to this suburban household in the midst of an argument about money, where we find that Richard, (Colin Mercer) doesn’t make enough, everything costs too much, and the charmed life of the Oscar Wildean wealthy bachelor next door, Jack, (Nico Racicot) with his net worth, lush lifestyle, flirtatious confidence, and narrator’s perspective on the story, make Richard feel inadequate.
Mercer’s Richard displays the entitlement of mediocrity, the expectation of achieving the status he deserves, by virtue of being a male who has done all the right things: acquired a good job, married a pretty blonde “nice girl,” bought a house in the suburbs, had a son to send to private school. Mercer’s slippery grasp on the embodiment of Don Draper-style man’s manhood highlights his character’s insecurity when Richard attempts to assert his role by inflicting violence on his family. Where a “real man” may use force when control is lost, Richard is the type who uses it to assert control, and in doing so, lets it slip away completely.
In contrast, Tara Koehler’s Jenny, at first passive, pretty, prim and perpetually offering tea and sandwiches, puts the pants on one leg at a time as she takes control of her life, her fate, and her family in the face of her husband’s failings. Koehler’s performance is compelling and nuanced, as Jenny maintains the poise and grace of the ideal 60’s housewife while defying mores of obedience and propriety to ultimately get the life she and her husband want. One with a well fertilized lawn, and a membership to the Club, although perhaps not the sort of fertilizer or club they’d be most proud of.
What do we all want? An electric mower. A wife that’s a bit wilder in the sack. A good cigarette. A membership to the Club. Floor to ceiling windows. The good vodka, once in a while. A green house. A garden. Everybody has a garden. Everybody wants the good life. Everybody lives beyond their means. Everybody makes concessions, and everybody, including the Joneses, sells a little bit of themselves to get there.