The typical Ketchikan weather threatened to dampen the excitement as I made my way to the Kayhi auditorium for the first time ever. As one of numerous who made the journey to the ‘Pay What You Can’ dress rehearsal of First City Player’s production of “The Secret Garden”, the reward for persevering certainly outweighed everything else. The auditorium was mostly full – the majority of the spectators having huddled together in the center for the best views. There was a bustling energy of excitement as more and more people filtered in; climbing roses on garden trestles shown on the drawn curtains in bright relief.
The entirety of the play revolves around the lingering memories and ghosts of those who had perished prior to the first act. Mary, portrayed by the talented Neila Urquhart, is left orphaned by a plague of cholera in India, and is shipped out to live with her widowed Uncle Archibald Craven, portrayed by Kyle G. Bailey. The ghosts of those who had died, including Mary’s parents, house staff, lieutenants, and Archie’s wife, Lily Craven, dotted the set to add ample otherworldly influences with voice and direction. The subtle guidance provided by the spirits, helped Uncle Archibald to accept Mary in his life, and helped Mary adjust to her new life. It is a great combination of both Mary and Archie accepting one another at the behest of the spirits that loved them fully. There were clever moments in which the spirits gathered away from the present time to show a moment from the past, be it a conversation between Lily and her sister, Rose (Mary’s mother) about Archibald, or Captain Albert Lennox (Mary’s father), giving Mary a rose.
I was enthralled with Bridget Mattson’s portrayal of Lily, Archie’s recently deceased wife, particularly when she sang of her aptly named “secret garden”. The melodies sang by Lily gently coaxed Mary to find the secret garden, and when Mary happened upon Uncle Archie’s ill son, Colin Craven, Lily guided them to the garden often. Colin, portrayed marvelously by Oliver Wutzke, hit his tantrums with ease and vigor. The voices of Archibald and his brother, Dr. Neville, portrayed by Andrew Boushka, were incredibly matched, and when both sang together, the timbre of their voices complimented one another in amazing ways.
The set was cleverly designed, with the spirits often being the ones to move set pieces in order to add to the scene ambience. It was most noticeable to me when Mary would dance to “charm” Colin Craven into walking with ghosts/spirits Fakir (Peter Epler) and Ayah (Amanda Glanzer) who slipped from their hiding spots on the set to dance the very same steps as Mary. The set pieces being just big enough for the spirits to hide behind, making it easier to show themselves, even for a split second.
With that in mind, the choreography, by Clare Bennett, was astounding. Every movement held weight, making the choreography a beautiful addition to the storytelling of the performance. Having witnessed firsthand the brand of dancing that comes from anything “Bollywood”-related, it made me smile to see the resemblance on stage. One thing I noticed in particular was the use of “negative space”. While that may be a term especially used for other mediums of art, it works well for what I saw in the play. While the spotlight was on the present characters, in the shadows other stories were being told through the spirits’ movements. More often than not, these spirits expanded on what was portrayed in the present in ways that simply couldn’t be accomplished otherwise.
In a smart use of the scenery and lighting, the spirits stood inside picture frames, either overseeing what was being played out before them, such as Rose Lennox watching over Mary or singing in the background, like Lily singing to Archie about her garden.
I encourage the community to make their way to the Kayhi auditorium November 8-10 and 15-17 to see First City Players’ incredible performance of “The Secret Garden”.