BWW Review: Magical THE SECRET GARDEN at Epic Theatre
Based on the classic children's story of the same name, this stage production of THE SECRET GARDEN tells the story of the orphan Mary Lennox forced to move from India to a distant relative's Yorkshire England estate when a cholera outbreak decimates her family. This stage adaptation sticks very close to the novel, and Megan Ruggerio's capable direction keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace. Excellent performances all around make this a delightful production for all ages.
When we meet Mary Lennox, she is a sallow, sickly brat who is used to having servants do everything for her. She quickly learns that Misselthwait Manor, her new home, runs very differently from what she's used to, and the no-nonsense servant Martha (Anastasia LaFrance) tells her that she had better find ways to entertain herself, or she'll have nothing to do all day. Mary quickly develops an affection for spending time outside in the gardens of the estate, but discovers that there's a locked garden door that groundskeeper Ben Weatherstaff (Geoff White) says has been closed for ten years--since the lady of the manor died suddenly and her husband, Mr. Craven, couldn't bear to see it. Mary becomes fascinated by the notion of the secret garden, and tries to find a way inside.
Erika Fay Greenwood's portrayal of Mary is a wonderfully subtle but compelling performance. As Mary is a total brat when we meet her, Greenwood gets to have a lot of fun with stamping her foot and crossing her arms angrily, but once she starts to settle in at Misselthwait Manor, she becomes calmer and more full of wonder. Her joy at growing independent and learning about gardening is palpable, and Greenwood displays a remarkable range of character development.
The character of Martha, though a secondary character, is really the heart of this production--and Anastasia LaFrance is perfectly cast in this role. She and her brother Dicken are the real Yorkshire folk in this work, and even though none of the cast are doing English accents, both LaFrance and Alvaro Beltran who plays Dicken, have a particular manner of speaking that is slightly different enough to be noticeable, but also feels completely authentic. When Mary arrives at Misselthwait Manor, Martha is the first person she meets, and Martha says in no uncertain terms that she has more than enough work to do, and no time to be taking care of a girl who is more than capable of taking care of herself. LaFrance delivers all these lines with a cheerful good humor, but also the sense that she is not one to be argued with.
Alvaro Beltran's Dicken has a lovely calm to him, and he absolutely seems like one who would be known as the local animal charmer. Alexander Sprague as Mary's cousin Colin, is the total opposite of Martha and Dicken in that he is an imperious brat who comes off very much like someone who has never been told 'no' in his life. Some of his lines were laugh-out-loud funny in how preposterous they were, but Sprauge never seems cartoonish or insincere.
It's a mighty feat to create a magical secret garden in a black box theatre, but the scenic and lighting design--by Alexander Sprague and Director Ruggerio do a fantastic job of transporting us into another world of magic and growing things. The crux of this work is that if you give a child, even the most hopeless-seeming one, a little bit of independence and something to care about, they can accomplish extraordinary things. It's a timeless story, perfectly executed at Epic Theatre.
THE SECRET GARDEN runs August 9-24th with performances Performances Friday, August 9th @ 7pm, Saturday, August 10th @ 7pm
Friday, August 16th @ 7pm, Saturday, August 17th @ 7pm
Friday, August 23rd @ 7pm, Saturday, August 24th @ 7pm
All Performances at 50 Rolfe Square in Cranston, RI 02910
Tickets are $20 General Admission, $15 for Seniors/Students/Military
Tickets can be purchased at https://www.artists-exchange.org/events
Photo: Erika Fay Greenwood and Alvaro Beltran. Photo by Dave Cantelli.