Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Into the garden

“The Secret Garden” at Capital Playhouse

Top, from left: Kate Hayes as Mary, Kurt Raimer in the role of Archibald Craven and Clarke Hallum as Colin. Bottom: Mary and Dickon (Stephen Anastasia). Photos Courtesy of Bailey Boyd.

This will be my third review of “The Secret Garden.” Each has been a different adaptation. Encore! Theatre in Gig Harbor did the musical version by Tim Kelly and Bill Francoeur in the summer of 2005. It was a lighter and less complicated adaptation of the classic story by Frances Hodgson Burnett that was scaled-down and had more children’s parts, making it ideal for small community theaters.  A year later I reviewed a non-musical adaptation by Paula Wing and Michael Shamata at Tacoma Little Theatre that was dark and magical. Those were each entertaining in different ways, but neither had all the big songs and the full-on Broadway-style production values of the more complicated adaptation by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, which was a hit on Broadway. That’s the one Capital Playhouse is doing.

In its grandiose vision, this one has the feel of an opera. In places I was reminded of Steven Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” and of “Les Misérables.” Kurt Raimer in the role of Archibald Craven reminded me of Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean in “Les Miz,” and his duets with Bruce Haasl as Dr. Craven put me in mind of duets by Valjean and Javert. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The plot of “The Secret Garden” is difficult to follow, and it is hard to keep straight the relationships between the various characters living and dead. The inclusion of ghosts, called “Dreamers” complicates the already dense relationships, but these ghosts are essential to the story. They contribute to the dreamlike atmosphere and make the magical transformation of the garden – and of the children Mary and Colin – believable.

Mary (played by Kate Hayes, a fifth grader at Lincoln Options Elementary in Olympia) is a 10-year-old English girl living in India when her parents die in a cholera epidemic. She is sent back to England to live with her uncle Archibald in his bleak country manor in Yorkshire. Archibald’s wife, Lily (Katin Jacobs-Lake) had died years ago, and Archibald is still grieving. Since her death the manor has gone to ruin and the garden she loved has been locked.  

Mary is not the only child in the house. Her cousin Colin (Clarke Hallum) is bedridden, dying, spoiled rotten, and mad at the world. At first Mary and Colin clash angrily, but eventually they become friends, and together they explore the “secret garden” behind a locked wall. 

Hayes plays Mary with skill and has a lovely voice. Hallum, suddenly a local star who gained fame as Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, throws himself into the role of Colin. It’s not a large role, but it is demanding, requiring mercurial changes of attitude from hateful to sweet and also requiring a strong voice. Hallum excels in this role.

Jacobs-Lake seems to float across the stage as the ghost of Lily, and she sings with a well controlled soprano voice. She is more suited to this role than she was a Mimi in “Rent,” a role she played both at Capital Playhouse and Tacoma Musical Playhouse last year.

The most outstanding actors are Raimer and Haasl as, respectively, Archibald and Dr. Craven. The tension between these brothers is palpable, and each of these actors expresses their essential natures through body language and posture – Archibald depressed and perpetually hopeless and Dr. Craven haughty and self-assured. The brothers were each in love with Archibald’s wife. Their duet on “Lily’s Eyes” is the most beautiful song in the play. In this song they each express their longing for Lily after being reminded of her because Mary has Lily’s eyes.

Other actors of note include Carolyn Willems Van Dijk as the cute and upbeat chambermaid, Martha; Patrick Wigren as Mary’s father Albert; and Stephen Anastasia as the leprechaun-like gardener Dickon. 

One of the things I have always admired about Capital Playhouse is the way they integrate set changes into the performance as choreographed movements not by stagehands but by characters in the play to avoid awkward disruptions to the flow of the story. In this play the set changes are done as a kind of ballet of movement by the Dreamers, who also serve as a Greek chorus.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 9. Note: the April 6 performance is tentative at this time.
WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 East 4th Ave, Olympia
TICKETS: $30-$41
INFORMATION: 360-943-2744, www.capitalplayhouse.com

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