The Shakespeare Theater Company’s The Secret Garden blooms on stage as whimsical set pieces and surprising lighting techniques bring the audience into the world of Frances Hodgson Burnett.
The Secret Garden follows the story of a spirited orphaned girl, Mary Lennox (Anya Rothman) as she transforms the lives of her new guardian, Archibald Craven (Michael Xavier), his son Colin (Henry Baratz), and the rest of the house staff. She discovers a secret garden, and tending to it with jack-of-trades Dickon (Charlie Franklin) revives the once lost “wick,” (or the characters’ word for “life”) along with the spirit of Misselthwaite Manor.
Despite the somewhat slow plot, director David Armstrong breathes a new life into the classic musical. Supported by scenic designer Anna Louizos and lighting designer Mike Baldassari, the show had a very natural feel to it. As unseen curtains were drawn back, early morning light seemingly filtered onto the stage, a beautiful touch that elicited applause from the audience and was a clear indicator of Baldassari’s skill. A thunderstorm scene was complete with realistic flashes of lighting and tremendous claps of thunder (attributed to sound designer, Justin Stasiw). The set was extremely dynamic, changing from the dark interior of Misselthwaite Manor to the bright sunshine of the gardens. Lifelike artificial roses and ivy creeped over the walls, as Rothman and Franklin danced to the songs of nature.
Two of the most impressive set pieces were the lovely portrait of Colin’s mother (Lizzie Klemperer), which moved between a still life and live acted performance, and the large tree located upstage, a symbolic and instrumental object throughout the show. However, the most engaging aspect of the scenery were the arches of ivy, moved around by the “spirits” that haunted Mary and the other characters. They gave a maze like effect to the garden and allowed for playful interaction between the actors and the natural world.
One of the most unique parts of The Secret Garden were the various “spirits” that stalked the stage, dancing and singing eerily among the hallways of the Manor and flitting around the garden. They represented all the loved ones that Mary and the other characters had lost, and often guided them in the right direction throughout the performance. This gave the show a very personal and ethereal touch, as the ghosts dressed in all white and were bathed in a glowing blue light.
The Secret Garden did exactly as it intended to do, inspire the audience to remain “wick!”