Archikulture Digest

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman

Music by Lucy Simon

Directed by Aradhana Tiwari

Starring Heather Kopp, Kennedy Joy Foristall and Zack Nadolski

Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL</strong>

It’s a book! It’s a film! It’s a stage play! Actually, this 1906 book spawned several films and an opera as well as this magical-realism stage version by noted writer Marsha Norman. We begin with a cholera epidemic that destroys an entire British outpost in India save for surly Mary Lennox (Foristall). She gets the orphanage run around and ends up in remote and possibly haunted Misselthwaite Manor in rural Yorkshire. At first she’s grumpy and petulant but also very lonely. She befriends maid Martha (Sara Catherine Barnes) and her son Dickon (Cole Nesmith) and learns the house’s story: It was a happy enough place with Archibald (Nadolski) and his wife Lily (Kopp) in residence. She had a son Colin (Will Gavigan) with a medical problem; then she died in an unusual gardening accident. Now Archie’s Brother Neville (Steven Lane) cares for the boy and hopes he may die, snagging the house and lands for himself. Mary foils the plan by finding Lily’s garden, restoring it and introducing Colin to the idea he’s not really sick and just needs a little outdoor time.

The story has a rather odd structure; most of Mary’s on stage time is spent apart from her uncle or his brother. The haunting turns out to have plebian roots and a good slice of the cast is off stage or dead for most of the show. Mary’s strongest relation rests with gentle Dickon; he’s patient and earthy and understands the animals; he teachers her about gardening which gets her out of her self-pity. Mary spends time with the great character actor Glen Cover as the gardener Ben; he’s a joy every time he’s on stage. Stephen Lane offers his strong and precise diction as Dr. Neville in residence, and Kopp’s ghost of romance past is suitably transcendental. Another noteworthy presence is Mrs. Barnes as the Yorkish maid; she takes a good stab at the Yorkish accent but in general the accents here are never terribly strong or consistent.

The music is well written but very modern; memorable songs are hard to find. I marked “There’s a Girl” and “It’s a Maze” and “Come Sprit, Come Charm” in my notes, but now can’t recall any of the melodies. What really does shine here is the stage craft: The fog machine occasionally does too good a job, but the use of large swathes of cloth and paper flowers is visually exciting as are the kabuki forests and moodily lit moors. A mysterious Fakir (Kristofer Cleto) guides Mary through the set’s wonderful atmosphere, and there was a pianist lurking back stage to give us a live sound track. Numerous children attended the opening night; this a kid friendly show tuned for pre-adolescents and I think a visit to The Secret Garden can only help them.

For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com

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