BWW Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at Brick Road Theatre

BWW Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at Brick Road Theatre

Oh SECRET GARDEN, a show that is both close to my heart and vastly under produced... but sort of for a reason. Marsha Norman (THE COLOR PURPLE) and Lucy Simon's adaptation of the classic novel sports some of the best music written for the stage in the last 50 years, but the book and story are heavy, long, and only succeed in very specific, very meticulous productions. Despite having several strong voices and bold design choices, Brick Road's version is not quite one of these.

THE SECRET GARDEN tells the story of young Mary Lenox (young Piper Cunningham), whose family dies of one of the many cholera outbreaks in British-Colonial India. She is whisked away to her estranged uncle's (Scott Nixon) home in Yorkshire, where the little girl begins to find joy in the colorful characters and nature of the estate, while unraveling the small mystery of the seemingly haunted house and it's walled garden. Spoiler: she has a bed-ridden cousin whose late mother left behind the secret garden, leading to her uncle's heart break and moodiness. The show crosses almost a whole year, as Mary makes friends with the gardener Ben, the shepherd Dickon, and the maid Martha, while tending the secret garden (once the magical key has been found), and helping her cousin get well (who wasn't really sick but her other uncle who is a doctor was trying to keep him that way to control the estate). It's complex, it's heavy, and frankly - more than kind of slow.

BWW Review: THE SECRET GARDEN at Brick Road Theatre

In order to make the dense text move, there has to be paced, purposeful staging; and with so much space covered, this show doesn't just ask for, but demands a fleshed out set. Brick Road's production, helmed by Tyler Jeffrey Adams, approached the show with what appears to be an avant-garde lens. In some ways this is successful, but at large this approach leaves the show a bit lost in the emptiness it occupies. Streamlined set design by Amy Poe and lighting by Lindsay Silva dominate the empty space and provide as much sense of place as they are able, though are still not quite enough to provide purpose to the plot.

Vocally there is some great stuff going on, especially with Elisa Danielle James' Lily Craven who effortlessly fills the room with a strong, controlled vibrato. Much of the supporting cast, including Daron Cockerell's Martha and Corbin Born's Dickon, sport strong voices of their own, though their scenes are burdened by busy staging and choreography choices. In fact, much of the cast really is great, with an on point cameo here and there, though they seem preoccupied with seriousness and formations, making the Brechtian Greek chorus feel tired. Seldom did I feel members of the cast knew why they were moving in such an abstract style, nor did they seem comfortable in their bodies. The approach could have been interesting, but unfortunately I don't know that this text serves such a minimalist approach: post-modernism and regency literature aren't always the happiest of bedfellows.

Brick Road Theatre took a solid swing at THE SECRET GARDEN; the cast members are clearly strong as individuals and musically capable. Unfortunately, the combination of confused and unmotivated movement with little sense of space or direction made the evening longer and less joyful than it might have been. I look forward to seeing work here in the future and seeing these actors in other roles, but this garden is one I wasn't exactly searching for.

For tickets and information go to www.brickroadtheatre.org.

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