'Secret Garden' Has Magic to Share!

Rebecca Swain | The Orlando Sentinel

October 26, 2007

Young Mary Lennox is shuttled off to live with her uncle in Yorkshire, England, after her parents die in a cholera epidemic in India. The spoiled girl (played with an impish delight by Jennifer Drew) is accustomed to having her own retinue of servants do everything for her but soon develops into a cheerful sprite -- no less willful, but far happier once she learns to do for herself. With her independent spirit and cheerful heart, she begins to have an effect on others around her.

While playing around the grounds of her uncle's estate, Mary discovers the key to a secret garden, a wild and long-forgotten place in need of love. Mary and her friend Dickon (Benjamin Cole) pour their energy and their joy into the neglected garden until the small patch of land blooms with the first tentative signs of life.

"It's magic," Mary says in wonder, and it could well be. Magic so strong it can revive the spirit of her sickly cousin Colin (Corey Loftus), long trapped by rigid rules in a lonesome part of the estate. Magic so powerful it can thaw the cold heart of her uncle, or make the spiteful housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, see the error of her ways.

To embody the idea of the garden's living soul, Gladu and Lee have an actor play the part of the Garden Tree, which watches over the action like a benevolent spirit. Indeed, as played by Jennie Sirianni, the tree is like a graceful wood sprite.

The Secret Garden is perhaps one of Gladu's best adaptations to date . She approaches the task with a delicate eye, moving the story along as briskly as possible to fit into an hourlong run time while maintaining the story's sense of gothic grandeur. Her touching interpretation is a perfect match for Lee's sense of visual drama. The production has so many lovely visual touches that add to the sense of mystery and magic surrounding Mary's secret garden. In the opening scene, a robin puppet glides by against a rich orange background, a nod to Julie Taymor's use of puppetry in storytelling. The set, which begins as a starkly beautiful lattice-work background, morphs into a moody English garden, wild and gray, just waiting to be reborn -- all with just a few touches of color.

The story has charm to spare, but the extra touches really bring a true sense of the magic to life, and leave you with a sure feeling that anything is possible if you just wish it so.

‘The Secret Garden' earns praise opening night

Play: Attendees rave about Barn production.

June 16, 2009 11:06 PM
From its stage set-ups and lighting to story line and cast, “The Secret Garden” had it all.

That’s what audience members had to say after Friday’s opening night at the Barn Theater.

Friends Judy Bellam and Deanna Shirbish attended opening night “to support the arts and keep them going,” Shirbish said.

The two sat in the front row with Shirbish’s granddaughters, Samantha Ramirez, 3, and her sister Shauncie, 10.

They were exposing the girls to the theater, they said, in the hopes of arousing an interest.

“We were just talking about the way the scenes were set up,” Shirbish said during intermission.

“[They used] minimal scenery,” Bellam said. “When they use the minimal amount of props, it allows you to focus on the characters.”

The two said the play, directed by Candalyn Ruffa, depicted the story of “The Secret Garden” closely to that of the movie.

The story is of a young girl, Mary Lenox (Natalie Tate), who enjoys a spoiled lifestyle while living with her well-off parents in India before she dies from the plague.

She then moves to be with her uncle, Archibald Craven (Jip Woudstra), who’s servants do not grant her every command. She begins to make friends, one of whom shows her a garden that belonged to Craven’s wife before she died.

Lenox then comes across a boy, Craven’s son Colin (Tyler Ruffa), whom the servants forbid to leave his bedroom. They warn him that engaging in normal activities would make him prone to becoming a hunchback, like his father.

“To me, it’s a story of survival in the most treacherous times,” Shirbish said. “Her being abandoned by her parents, and him being told he’ll get sick if he goes outdoors.”

Wendy Plaisted described the lighting as her favorite component of the production.

“It’s very good lighting effects. It’s like tableau, and then they start moving into the action,” she said.

During most of the play, a tunnel of lighting focused in on a single bed, or conversation between two or more actors. At some moments, it broadened slightly to feature a row of flower beds, and a tree, played by actress Brittney Ruffa.

Walt Orth attended the play to see his daughter Tamara in the part of “Martha,” the maid, and after the play, complimented the actors as a whole.

“It was great. I thought all the actors and actresses did a fantastic job,” he said.

George Pearce, sitting in the audience, raved about the actress who played the lead role, 8-year-old Natalie Tate, and even bought champagne for the young girl’s grandmother.

“She naturally, unwillingly, and in a childlike manner, just gets on stage, and she is that character,” he said.
Tate said it was her first performance.

“It’s pretty fun, and I’m pretty interested in [theater],” she said.

The first-timer broadened her presence by singing in a few scenes.

“It’s a really fun play to work with. It’s a lot of lines to remember — 14 scenes, and I’m in 12. It was pretty easy to remember though. I practiced every day,” she said.

Ruffa said over half of her cast were first-timers to the stage.

“There is a sense of seriousness to [the play],” she said. “It’s great for kids, adults and seniors. This is a play for everybody.”