by Lynn on February 19, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer


Natalia Gracious
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

At Young People’s Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Paul Ledoux

Adapted from the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Directed by Allen MacInnis

Set by Teresa Przybylski

Costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Lesley Wilkinson

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Cast: Simon Bracken

Vivien Endicott-Douglas

Natalie Gracious

Dan Lett

Sarah Mennell

Jake Runeckles

Benjamin Sutherland

A pedestrian production of this play about two spoiled, miserable children learning the value of generosity and of gardens. Strangely it was the garden that was the biggest disappointment since designer Teresa Przybylski is a dandy creator and could have fashioned something more dazzling than this sad effort.

The Story. Mary is an orphan who has come from India to England to live with her uncle Lord Craven, in his large house on the desolate moors. Mary is a self-absorbed spoiled brat who orders the servants around as if they were underlings not worthy of respect. They treat her much better than she does them.

Her uncle is in deep mourning after the death of his wife and does not want to have anything to do with his niece or the house he shared with his wife. It brings back too many memories. He is often away. Mary is eventually befriended by Martha, a servant in the house and Dickon her brother who knows everything about nature, plants and flowers.

Mary hears about a secret garden on the grounds and is curious to find it. She also hears strange sounds in the house as if it’s a child crying. She is curious to find the cause of the sounds as well.

Mary bonding with Martha and Dickon begins her road to being a decent human being, who is able to love her uncle and others, learn about the world, and the value of any garden, either secret or not.

The Production.  There is a bricked wall up at the back with subtle projections of flowers on it at times. A chirping bird flits across the top of the wall. Two dead-looking black trees, one stage left, one stage right, give the sense of how death suffocates the air on this estate. Ben (Dan Lett) is the gardener who putters around bringing in baskets of flowers to arrange around the space. For the most part, the space is bare of anything except set pieces that suggest the inside of the house: a chair, a bed, a table with a food tray.

When Mary (Natalia Gracious) arrives, she is rude, officious, demanding and a general horror. Martha (Vivien Endicott-Douglas) accepts Mary’s rudeness with grace and good nature. It is that grace and good nature that will eventually win Mary over from the dark side of rudeness to being a decent human being.

There is so much build-up about the secret garden (that Lord Craven’s wife enjoyed until her death, when he locked it up) that our curiosity is intense to see what beautiful tangle designer Teresa Przybylski has created, when Mary finds the garden.

Unfortunately and surprisingly she doesn’t do much, which is so odd. Przybylski is such a fine designer, but all we get here are a few baskets that Ben brings on full of life-like big-bloomed flowers. No tangle of overgrowth, no jumble of branches etc. We know that Ben has been pruning a tree, but the rest should give some sense of neglect. Instead we get nothing. Disappointing.

The acting is respectable for the most part as is Allen MacInnis’ direction. Some people tend to declaim to their young audience as if a kid can’t hear unless they are being bellowed at. As Mary, Natalia Gracious is dandy as the smarmy kid who does mature into a kind, considerate person. Vivien Endicott-Douglas as Martha is sweet and understanding of Mary. Endicott-Douglas adds class to any production.

 Comment. Writer Paul Ledoux appreciates Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book because it depicts kids who are less than perfect who learn the error of their ways. Fine. It’s just that this production hasn’t realized much of its potential and the result is a real disappointment.

 Presented by Young People’s Theatre

 Began: Feb. 5, 2018.

Closes: March 17, 2018.

Running Time: 80 minutes.

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1 Min Sook Lee March 3, 2018 at 8:26 pm

Good review. Just saw the production and was disappointed. Expected more from the garden – kept thinking there would be some magical reveal of awe/wonder and instead the there were plastic flower baskets and dim christmas lights on the dead trees.
Acting felt overwrought. This 100+ year old book doesn’t age well. Aside from the stereotypical class generalizations and colonial subtext it was the message that feels trite and simpy. Sunshine and a better attitude doesn’t heal all. Of course it aids along but the bedridden son’s realization that he can walk after a few trips to the garden is contrived. As a parent I wish there were more relevant plays for young people – I’m sick of Annie and other rehashed ‘classics’ that revere a world that doesn’t exist anymore, and frankly never did.