“The Secret Garden,” originally a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, tells the story of a young girl named Mary Lennox (Dina Saltzmann) who lost her parents due to a cholera outbreak and is sent to live with her uncle Archibald Craven (Marcel Daly) at Misselthwaite Manor, a haunted mansion. Here, her life is much different than it was back in India.
Since its publication, the novel has been adapted into film, ballet productions and a musical. The musical was written by Marsha Norman with music composed by Lucy Simon.
At the Manor, Mary is shunned by her uncle and befriends many of the house members and discovers the secret garden in the manor’s backyard. Later, Mary meets Archibald’s ill son, Colin (Atticus Walker). Mary works to get Colin better and together they enter the secret garden. While in the garden, Colin is magically cured and everybody celebrates in the garden for a happy ending.
The live production does a good job of keeping the viewer engaged. The actors, while college students, were very convincing in playing their characters and had very seamless transitions between scenes. Shaina Smith, who plays Lily Craven Archibald’s deceased wife whose spirit roams the grounds of Misselthwaite, has a few scenes where the viewer isn’t quite sure if she’s still alive or dead.
One scene that comes to mind is when Archibald, Mary and Neville (Archibald’s brother) are all talking in the office and Lily shows up in the doorway. Archibald walks towards her and sticks his hand out, but she disappears off stage again. Both actors did a very convincing job at selling the illusion.
The pacing moves quickly, moving from one thing to the next, with seamless set changes that went about as quick as it could go having to drag things on and off stage often.
The actors had fantastic direction under Dr. Scott Glasser. Before coming to UNO, Glasser spent 35 years in professional theater. During this time, he worked on 63 plays, directing 33 of them. Glasser says he wanted to use the imagery of the stage to tell the story and he did that perfectly, using various lighting schemes to set the mood of whether scenes were inside or outside. Pillars of a house came down from the rafters when a scene occurred inside the manor.
Another aspect of the play that stood out were the costumes. The dresses really set the time period well, with Mary in a ragtag dress while the other housemaids, Martha and Jade (played by Jocelyn Reed and Jamie Herzberg) had typical 19th century dress on. The ghosts were in off-white dresses and the lighting went to a dark blue when they showed up, switching the mood instantly.
This is a great theater production, despite not having a very large area to work with. The script was adapted from Norman’s musical but worked well for the actors. The cast consisted of 21 actors who had been rehearsing “The Secret Garden” since Sept. 10.
Any person who enjoys theatre would really enjoy seeing this play, if not only for the story alone, which is brilliant. I, myself, have never been much into live theatre productions, but “The Secret Garden” drew me in. I was anxiously awaiting what would happen next and how this would all turn out.