TFM Review: The Secret Garden by Nikki Francisco
Photography by: Frida Tan
Dark and Somber – The Secret Garden For a children’s classic, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden isn’t very light. An outbreak of cholera wipes out an entire village rendering a 10-year-old British girl orphaned in the middle of India. She is sent to live in a massive manor in the middle of a cold and misty moor, where her last remaining family had no plans to meet, much less take care of her.
It’s a dark story, but it’s a simple one: Mary Lennox finds a secret garden (and a secret cousin!) and brings it back to life– her family and Misselthwaite Manor along with it. Still, if the original material was a little dour, the musical is, surprisingly, even gloomier.
This is not The Secret Garden you grew up with.
Marsha Norman wrote a musical that gave equal weight to the adults of the story. We get to know Archibald Craven (Lorenz Martinez, in a truly heart-felt performance) and we are made to understand that he’s so much more than a neglectful guardian. He is tortured by the death of his beautiful wife and the perceived imminent death of his bed-ridden 10-year-old son, Colin (Daniel Drilon). He has decided to keep his remaining family at a distance, perhaps fearing that getting too close will only make the pain of Colin’s inevitable death more devastating.
Lily, (Caisa Borromeo) Mr. Crane’s late wife, is an important character. Ethereal, sure, but her constant presence throughout the story added a level of ghoulishness to the proceedings. There is Dr. Craven, (Noel Rayos, who played an equal antagonist to Mr. Martinez) too. Archibald’s younger brother. He is a jealous man– envious of his brother’s birthright, wife, even envious of his nephew’s inheritance. He gives the story a proper villain, and the musical, an opportunity for a few show-stopping numbers.
Still, the story is also about Mary (Ashlee Factor). In this production, she is not so much contrary or spoiled as she is curious. She explores her new home, urged on by her keeper, Martha, (well played by Natalie Everett) and the rest of the well-meaning people in her Uncle’s employ. One character, Dickon, (Red Concepcion, in an energetic performance that livened up the show when it dragged) is aged a decade or two for this production. It’s an immaterial detail, unless you’re familiar with any of the story’s other incarnations, in which case a 30-year-old Dickon is distracting at best.
With Dr. Anton Juan’s direction, Rep’s The Secret Garden is artful and technically superb. Featuring a textured and interesting set, dramatic lighting and rich costumes and choreography, it’s almost worth not seeing the eponymous Garden at all.
Have you seen the show? What did you think?