Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Authors Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) and Lucy Simon (music) originally adapted Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 novel for Broadway in 1991, but they have done some streamlining to improve the flow, consolidating scenes and moving and eliminating songs. The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle is co-producing this production, directed and choreographed by David Armstrong.
The story is decidedly Gothic in nature, with its tragic deaths, ghostly presences, and an isolated country manor house, and Armstrong's staging begins with an arresting image: a beautiful woman (Lizzie Klemperer) posed in a Victorian frame, high above the stage, as a girl and a man, isolated from each other, look at replicas of her portrait. The girl is sullen 10-year-old Mary Lennox (Anya Rothman), daughter of a British Army officer in India, but packed off to England after her parents and everyone she knows die of cholera (not a spoiler, it happens in the first scene). Archibald Craven (Michael Xavier), Mary's guardian, was married to Lily, the woman in the portrait and the sister of Mary's mother, but he has retreated from life since her death.
Rothman gives Mary the depth and inner strength her character needs so the audience won't find her off-putting. She enters this unfamiliar world with no idea what to do or how to behave, but she's quick to learn and becomes the propulsive force that drives the action. Daisy Eagan, who originated the role of Mary in the Broadway production and became the youngest-ever female Tony Award winner, here returns to the musical in the smaller but pivotal role of Martha the chambermaid, and she still enchants.
The cast has no real weak links: Xavier, tormented and at war with himself, with a ringing voice; Josh Young as Archibald's self-justifying younger brother; Henry Baratz as miserable Colin Craven; Charlie Franklin as Martha's brother Dickon, who understands the mysteries of nature; and Klemperer, radiant and serene, whose influence on Mary and the others drives the resolution.
The production design is both eye-filling and ingenious. Anna Louizos' scenic design achieves maximum results from minimal scenery, specifically sliding wrought-iron panels to represent scenes in the house and wheeled pieces of a hedge maze (cunningly manipulated by chorus members) that pick up on Mary's disorientation. Mike Baldassari's lighting design conjures up shattering thunderstorms and wild winds, while Ann Hould-Ward has crafted beautifully detailed period costumes.
Shakespeare Theatre Company