Haunting and memorable … the Heartwood production of “The Secret Garden” is this and so much more. Through a superb cast directed by Griff Braley, and with choreographer Michelle Bruckner, vocal director Beth Preston and the magical score played by pianist Sean Fleming and percussionist Davidi Paul Rowan, “The Secret Garden” blooms once more.
Most of us read that novel, or saw one or both of the film versions (1949 and 1993), but if you haven’t, here’s the background … 10-year-old Mary Lennox (Catherine Ashmore Bradley) finds herself orphaned after the cholera outbreak of the early 1900s in India. Due to her tragic circumstances, the grieving child becomes sullen and rude when forced to interact with adults, all of whom are complete strangers. Strangers with many secrets ...
She is sent to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven (Cody Marcukaitis), her only living relative, at his isolated Yorkshire, England estate, Misselthwaite Manor, which is reputed to be haunted! But by what or whom?
Archibald’s son Colin (Spencer Pottle) lives at the manor – but he may as well be a ghost – no one but the maids and his doctor uncle ever sees him. Colin’s mother, Lily (Verity Pryor-Harden) died after giving birth to the boy following an accident in her garden. Colin’s father has not seen the boy since his birth – Archibald sees his beloved Lily in his son. He also believes Colin has his “crooked back” and will be deformed as he is. Colin spends his nights crying. Crying over his fate, crying for love.
But Archibald’s grief is all consuming. He is a haunted man. Haunted by the past, by love, by memories, by grief … by reality. When he and Mary meet by chance in the manor, she tells him about the crying she hears at night. Having heard about the manor being haunted on her way to Yorkshire and quite possibly by the ghosts themselves, she asks her uncle if everyone becomes a ghost after they die. Archibald tells her people become ghosts “ … if someone alive is still holding onto them.”
Sometimes, Archibald gives himself over to treasured memories of Lily so completely he is physically moved to dance about the room holding Lily in his arms (while the Dreamers/Greek Choir dance around him as guests). Fully exploring this memory, Archibald and Lily sing “A Girl in the Valley,” recounting their meeting, their courtship. If you give yourself over to this scene, you, too will be moved – not to dance, but to tears. I certainly was. And, if you’re a romantic, as I am, it won’t be the last time ...
Archibald’s brother Neville is a doctor who manages the estate for his elder brother and takes care of Colin. Neville is not only bitter about not inheriting the manor because of birth order, he is also bitter about not having the chance to be with the woman he loved and loves still … Lily. Ahh secrets ...
Fortunately for Mary, there are some friendlier adults around her … Martha, (Shelby Mason), a young maid at the manor, is kind and compassionate. She encourages Mary to go outdoors and explore the moors, gardens … the maze, and perhaps find a hidden garden.
Gardener Ben Weatherstaff (John Strong) tells Mary about Lily’s garden and how he was ordered to lock it up and bury the key after Lily’s death. He encourages Lily to dig a hole … start a garden.
But it is when Mary meets Dickon, she finds her first true friend at the manor. Dickon’s love of nature, ability to talk to animals, particularly birds … like a certain robin redbreast, and easy going dispostion entertain Mary. He also becomes her key to the key … or was that the robin?
Mary goes exploring about the manor and finally finds the source of the crying: Not a ghost, not yet, it is Colin. Mary is suspicious of his supposed terminal affliction. On one visit she actually proves to him he hasn’t the beginnings of a hump on his back – it is merely his spine. Their ensuing argument brings Neville on the scene who forbids Mary to see Colin again – and becomes more determined than ever to send her away.
So many secrets. So many lives that need tending.
And now, about this cast … After attending the dress rehearsal this week I was convinced there could not be another young actress as engaging, talented and perfect for the role of Mary Lennox than Catherine Ashmore Bradley. If ever there was a role waiting for the perfect actor to bring a character to life … Catherine is spot on – singing, dancing, interacting. Her stage presence, energy, and genuine enthusiasm for this role make her a joy to watch, and fortunately she is in most every scene! (BTW, I did go on YouTube to check out other young actresses in the role and, I was right!)
Spencer Pottle is a familiar face in the Boothbay region, and like other Y-Arts youth group performers, we have watched him grow up. Spencer makes his debut with Heartwood as Colin and, he’s terrific. I loved the quarreling scenes with Mary as much as when she takes him to the garden. In his solo song, “Round-Shouldered Man,” Spencer shines, clearly demonstrating his ability to hit emotional and high notes. Well done, Spencer!
Tommy MacDonell as Dickon works for me as completely as with Catherine as Mary; there could not be a more perfect actor than Tommy for this role. If you are a Carousel Music Theater patron, you will recognize him almost instantly. (I recognized his face right away and during the intermission at the dress rehearsal I attended I had to give in and read his bio in the program. It was a real “I coulda had a V8 hand to the head moment! Whenever Tommy is onstage – particularly with Catherine, magic abounds … and that magic is not emanated by that magical staff Dickon is always a-carryin’ either.
Cody Marcukaitis deftly conveys the inner conflicts within Archibald and we feel his pain and sadness with each step he takes and each song he sings. As I already mentioned, the ballroom scene and song about him and Lily is so well done.
And about those Dreamers/Greek Choir … they add that necessary ghostly element in the show. Each member of the choir also has a supporting role – Jenny Brown is also Mary’s mother Rose; Bradley Carter also plays Mary’s father, Captain Albert Lennox – through which backstories are shared about the past. Because this group includes several characters who have died, they are ghosts, spirits watching over those they loved in this physical realm, staying until their living loved ones are ready to let them go. I just love this.
Our connection to our roots, to those we love, and our love of beauty for the joy it brings us are central themes in this show. Whether a garden, an alcove, a rock by the sea, as Mary sings, we all need a place we can go to find ourselves again.
We also need a place where we can go for top notch live theater experiences. For the next two weeks that experience is being offered through Heartwood’s production of “The Secret Garden.” Don’t. Miss. Out. Evening performances begin at 7:30 on July 20 and 21, 25-28, with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday, July 22. Make your reservation now by email, firstname.lastname@example.org or phone, 563-1373.