Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Secret Garden
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Second City: Black Side of the Moon and Straight White Men

Daisy Eagan and Anya Rothman
Photo by Scott Suchman
The Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of The Secret Garden is a gift to Washington audiences, beautiful to look at and blessed with lush voices throughout the cast.

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
In association with The 5th Avenue Theatre
The Secret Garden
November 15th - December 31st, 2016
Book and lyrics by Marsha Norman
Music by Lucy Simon
Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mary Lennox: Anya Rothman
Lily: Lizzie Klemperer
Archibald Craven: Michael Xavier
Dr. Neville Craven: Josh Young
Mrs. Medlock: Catherine Flye
Martha: Daisy Eagan
Dickon: Charlie Franklin
Ben Weatherstaff: Seán G. Griffin
Colin Craven: Henry Baratz
Mrs. Winthrop: Mary Jo DuGaw
The Spirits:
Fakir: Vishal Vaidya
Ayah: Maya Maniar
Rose Lennox: Brittany Baratz
Captain Albert Lennox: Jason Forbach
Lieutenant Wright: Jared Michael Brown
Major Holmes: Greg Stone
Claire Holmes: Mary Jo DuGaw
Alice: Billie Wildrick
The Others:
Major Shelly/Butler: Ethan Watermeier
Soldier/Footman: Alex Alferov
Soldier/Cook/Nurse: Happy McPartlin
Soldier/Housemaid: Hayley Travers
Director/choreographer: David Armstrong
Music supervisor/music director/additional arrangements by Rick Fox
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

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