“Garden” blooms as young Martha’s Vineyard actors perform

Archibald Craven, left, and Colin. — Photo by Susan Safford

Students from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School went back in time this weekend, when video games and computers were not available for entertainment. Instead, they picked up gardening tools and jump-ropes on stage in the musical, “The Secret Garden.”

Cholera outbreaks in early 20th-century India devastated young Mary Lennox. She woke up to find her parents, servants, and friends dead. She shipped off to England to live with her sick, hunchbacked uncle, Archibald. In England, she makes friends with Martha and Dickon, Ben and the bluejay, and grows to love her family. Together, they discover a Secret Garden that belonged to Archibald’s late wife, Lily.

A simple set, large cast, elegant choreography, and a complex story brought together a delightful and tear-jerking performance. Although it was occasionally difficult to follow the story and its transitions between the past and present, the actors effectively took the audience back 100 years, when the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett that prompted the play was published.

Originally the show was received very well by the public. It was nominated for several Tony Awards and received, among others, “Best Musical of a Book.” The student’s version of the musical was also received enthusiastically, receiving several standing ovations.

The lead actors — Olivia de Geofroy, Katherine Reid, and Gage Rancich — all skillfully presented their complex, sorrowful characters and took control of the stage. Olivia, who played Lily, sang in a haunting soprano voice. Gage, as Archibald, used his deep baritone voice to surprisingly sweet effect, especially when mixed with Olivia’s.

The highlights of the show were found in sophomore Katherine Reid’s portrayal of a young girl shattered by tragedy. She sang with a dynamic voice that both revealed sorrow at the loss of her parents and joy at the wonder of living. Katherine’s duet with Taylor McNeely in “Wick” was full of energy. The chemistry between the two actors was apparent on stage, highlighting the innocence of their childhood friendship.

The large size of the cast allowed for complex dance sequences, choreographed by Lianna Loughman. The movements of the spirits were fleeting and graceful, while those of the living characters were more lively and clumsy. Kathryn Antonsson (Martha) was hilarious as she clumsily dressed Mary for the day, misbuttoning her frock.

Supporting actors such as Taylor McNeely, Josh Boucher, and Kathryn (Dickon, Dr. Neville Craven, and Martha, respectively) sang along to tunes that took a large part in revealing the storyline. At some points the songs were difficult to follow and confused the story. However, the energy of the actors compensated for any confusion.

Sarah Parece delivered a notable portrayal of Colin, the angry and lonely son of Archibald and Lily. Sarah and Katherine both delivered believable and impressively upsetting fits resulting from stress at too young an age.

Island business-owner Alix deSeife Small volunteered to make realistic costumes for the 20th-century characters. Olivia wore a particularly remarkable costume that was opulent and ghostly. Many other actors wore ethereal costumes as well to identify them as spirits haunting the mansion. Gage’s costume gave him a convincing hunchback that, combined with his pretend limp, looked very convincing.

This was Betsy Hauck’s first year directing the winter musical, and she was able to enlist Islanders interested in theater to help by choreographing, playing piano, working the sound-board, and acting.

About the new director, Kathryn said, “She’s a wonderful director. It was good to have a different director than I’d had for the past three years, so I would be able to adjust for when I go off for college.”

Kathryn has participated in the two annual school plays for four years in a row. She said, “It was my last high school musical, so my feelings towards it were that I wanted to have the best experience yet. And I did.” Kathryn plans to stay involved in theater in college.

Many students who participated in the play also participated in other curricular and extra-curricular activities. Many of them participated in other aspects of the high school’s performing arts program, like the Minnesingers choral group or the other school play, “Reflections,” that will compete later this season in the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild High School Drama Competition. Senior Megan Mendenhall (Rose Lennox, Mary’s mother) had to balance play rehearsals with a mentorship at The FARM Institute. Mostly rehearsals were flexible.

As the garden came alive within the story, the stage came alive in real life. The energy and movement of the stage was visually fascinating. The combination of a heart-wrenching plot and talented actors resulted in a great performance.

Lily Bick, a senior at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, lives in Vineyard Haven. She is the co-editor-in-chief of the High School View.