Quest Theaterworks’ current production of “The Secret Garden” is charming and enjoyable for both adults and children. The play is an adaptation by Sylvia Ashby of the beloved children’s book of the same name, published in 1911 by author Frances Hodgson Burnett.
The protagonist is 10 year old Mary Lennox, raised in India by disinterested parents who both died. She is sent to England to live with a stranger, her uncle who has been mourning his wife’s death for 10 years. Mary is an angry, sullen, spoiled child. But after developing an interest in nature and discovering a secret garden, locked away after her uncle’s wife died there, her outlook brightens. She also discovers she has a temperamental, sickly cousin, son of her uncle and his deceased wife, who has been kept in bed for his 10 years and thinks he is dying. The ensuing story revolves around each child’s growth, from isolation to friendship and joy, from loathing of self to delight, concurrent with the growth of the secret garden.
The entire acting company contributes to the fine result—it is definitely an ensemble piece. Mary is well acted by Lucy Gardiner, whose persona and appearance are exactly right for her character. Ty Baldwin, as her cousin Colin, nicely portrays Colin’s evolution from self-absorption to wonder. The servant Martha, lovingly played by Madeline Fournier, is the first to befriend Mary. Martha’s brother Dickon, easily embodied by Finn McCary, is Mary’s second friend (Mary keeps count). Paul Hauk effortlessly inhabits the seemingly crusty but gentle gardener, Ben Weatherstaff. And Chris Whitlock as Mrs. Medlock, the officious house manager who doesn’t much like children, crispy illuminates adult narrow-mindedness.
Quest Theaterworks chose to present “The Secret Garden” outdoors, on the grounds of the Bear Yuba Land Trust’s Burton Homestead, enhancing the themes of nature and reinvigoration of spirit. Director Judy Blake’s full use of the setting, positioning the garden, the bedrooms of the cousins, and the various actions over a broad area, augments the sense of depth and growth. Although the program doesn’t identify a Set Designer, the set is delightfully visual and functional. Costume Designer Eileen Beaver’s creations establish the requisite time period and tone.
I attended the production with a friend who was raised in London. She thought Dialect Coach Chris Goodwin’s instruction was quite accurate—the actors’ accents were authentic, particularly Hauck’s gardener. However, I occasionally had trouble understanding some words spoken in the Yorkshire dialect.
Attendees ranged from very young children to seniors. When a couple of scenes moved a bit slowly, the very young lost interest, but those six years and older sat immensely entranced throughout the intermission-free one-and-three-quarter hour play.
Performances begin at 6 p.m. It is lovely to sit outside with a picnic at the woodsy, shaded Burton Homestead, to be entertained during the warm evening—and definitely worth taking your kids and grandkids. Or just take your adult self to enjoy a very good show. Remaining performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For more information about the play, go to http://questtheaterworks.com/.
Hindi Greenberg feels that the message that appreciation for—and involvement in—nature can cure many ills is so important for children to learn. It is one of her own deeply held beliefs and practices and has served her well.