Review: A ‘Secret Garden’ in the atticWritten by Patrick Timmis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tucked beside a barbed-wire-fenced parking lot on 10th St., The Toledo Repertoire Theatre has an unpromising exterior. But onstage for The Rep’s current production of “The Secret Garden,” the visual is the strongpoint.
In the show, a young orphan named Mary Lennox comes to live in a gloomy Gothic mansion with her despairing uncle Archibald Craven, who is heart-broken over his wife’s death.
Director Matthew Bowland and his creative team have conceived the show as a series of Mary’s memories played out decades later when her grandchildren visit the attic of the house that haunted her as a child.
The concept allows The Rep, which has little space to work with, to stage the entire show within the attic, forcing the audience to imagine a Gothic mansion and ivy-covered garden. The clever set design minimizes scene changes as old knick-knack-filled chests become furniture, a wardrobe becomes a doorway for ghosts and an upper level of brick becomes a garden wall.
The conceit complements “The Secret Garden’s” already dreamy quality, as a Greek chorus of ghosts or memories wanders the halls and enchantments fill the magical garden.
The downside of the presentation is that the setting remains static as the storyline moves out of the gloomy halls and into the sunshine. This puts an extra burden on the actors to portray the trajectory from grief to hope.
Scott O’Brien plays Archibald, the show’s emotional center and true protagonist. Archibald’s journey, as he learns to again embrace life and the people around him, depends on a clear portrayal by the actor of both crippling sorrow and intense love and joy.
O’Brien, who has a full, rich voice and performs his songs flawlessly, rarely communicates more than a sulky depression. His, and the show’s, best moment came near the end in a moving duet with Lily, his wife’s spirit. O’Brien seemed for the first time to lose himself in the scene. It was also the first time his voice cracked with emotion.
Drew Longmore, 11, plays Mary Lennox. Her delicate vocals and mature stage presence are a highlight, as is her chemistry with 12-year-old Maxwell Lay, who plays the lonely, crippled Colin Craven. Lay has a beautiful voice, and the children’s scenes together as they fight, make up and become friends are some of production’s most charming.
The Dreamer chorus is another highlight, performing their dances — ably choreographed by Debra Ross Calabrese — with energy. Their tight vocal harmonies have a richness and volume that belies their small number, and several, most notably Jake Gordy as Capt. Albert Lennox, Jared Dorotiak as Major Holmes and Emily Taplin as the Ayah, stand out with great solo pieces.
Tickets are $22 for an adult, $20 for a senior, $5 for students 12 and younger, $10 for students 13 and above and $10 for a group of 10 or more. Remaining performances are June 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00 p.m. and June 19 at 2:30 p.m. Visit the website at www.toledorep.org. or call call 419-243-9277 for more information.