Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"What's Life Without a little Drama?"


I went to the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, fondly called The Rep, in its 79th season, with my dear friend Barby on a Sunday afternoon. It was like old times. We met up with her friends Marcia, a pianist, and Paul, a former PCV in Iran in the 1960s. We had tons in common, plus a love of theatre.

We saw “The Secret Garden,” the popular musical written by Marsha Norman, with music by Lucy Simon, that premiered on Broadway in 1991, and had a long run. I love the original story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which takes me back to my childhood. I read it and reread it when I was about 12 or 13 years old, an enchanting and endearing tale of loss and rebirth built around the powerful symbol of reviving a neglected 'secret' garden.

The Rep’s production soared. Brilliant stage set, lighting, costumes, direction, choreography. The entire stage was "framed" with old vintage photos and photo frames, antique lamps, artifacts, crafts, and household items, all piled on top of each other, layered, a bit musty, artfully placed. A frame of memorabilia and memories, the characters on stage surrounded by the past.

This production had a huge cast, and all the leads had beautiful, strong voices. “Not a bad voice among them,” Barby whispered in my ear. The orchestra was great, too, featuring woodwinds, percussion, and keyboard. The flute sounded the voice of the robin that led Mary to the key to the secret garden. The songs ranged from sweet to melancholy to powerful, the music low key and haunting, especially with the appearance of so many “ghosts” who filled the stage and prompted action or responded to it. The ghosts moved gracefully around the characters, adding depth and mystery.

The set was fantastic, but there was no garden, something I had looked forward to seeing: a beautifully designed staged garden. How wonderful that would be! But I thought about it, during and after the play. Someone made a decision not to build a garden set, to leave it to our imaginations. And it worked. For the most part. Had other productions tried designing and building a garden? I don’t know. The original program showed a bouquet of flowers, and a golden key. The story evokes the beauty, the flowering, of a neglected garden, seen or unseen, come to life, and with it the lives of the characters--Mary, her cousin Colin, her uncle Archibald, all of them.

What a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. “What’s life without a little drama,” as the Toledo Blade, the local newspaper, reminded us in the theatre program.
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