by Terrance Mc Arthur
The Secret Garden at the Enchanted Playhouse in Visalia. Don’t keep it a secret.
It’s not like it’s a new story; Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote it in 1910. It’s not like it’s unknown; there are several movie versions, television adaptations, and a Broadway musical based on the tale. What it is like is a friendly story that has been around for ages because it’s a friendly story about the power of love and kindness to make a difference in the lives of people.
Mary Lennox (Gracie Richardson) is an orphaned child sent to live with an uncle in England. She is spoiled, rude, and worthy of being sent back to India, but she isn’t the biggest problem at Misselthwaite Manor. Her Uncle Archibald (Kelly Ventura) is a grieving widower, avoiding his home for the last ten years. Crying noises are heard in the night, cries the servants deny hearing. The warm Mrs. Sowerby (Jessica Rice) and her exceedingly large and happy family draw Mary away from her sullenness and into the light and air of the outdoors, led by Martha (Savana Vernon), a maid in the Manor, and Dickon (Zachary Ludden), a gardener’s assistant. When a robin leads Mary to the key that opens the secret garden her uncle had locked when his wife died, things begin to grow and blossom, plants and humans alike.
Richardson starts off being annoying and frustrating, which she should, reminiscent of the mean Nellie in Little House on the Prairie. As Mary learns to accept and express kindness, Richardson’s movements are softer, more fluid, and joy lights up her face as she begins to embrace nature and help others. It’s a lovely transformation.
Ventura, so loose and bouncy in Camp Charming and New Clothes for the Emperor, is tortured and restrained as Archibald Craven, spacing out his words like William Shatner explaining the big message in a Star Trek episode. Vernon is bubbly and excited with Mary, eager to open her to the wonders of the world. Ludden is gangly and infectious as the apprentice gardener who knows a lot about life—plant life.
Rice comes off as warm and loving. Alison Enos, as the snooty Mrs. Crawford, is unwarm and unloving, but she is fascinated by the metamorphosis of Colin (Andrew Rozum) under the influence of Mary. Alison has a slightly Helena Bonham-Carter quality about her. Odran Gilheany as Dr. Craven is odious and regimented, a contrast to the life-embracing characters around him. Amy McKay makes a fine housekeeper for the Manor, and Lauren Ventura plays an opportunistic would-be governess with enthusiasm.
Kay Whistler and Debbie Metzler directed from a strong Tim Kelly script, Barbara Smith and Jolene Ringhofer designed a lot of costumes (Mary’s dresses fit the period, and the India-inspired garb of Kanchi (Olivia Gonzales) was stunning). Richard Morrill’s sets took us from the hallways of the Manor to the abandoned garden that gradually filled with life.
The Secret Garden is on stage at the Enchanted Playhouse in Visalia through October 11. For more information, see their website, and tell someone. It shouldn’t stay a secret.
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