THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett, adapted by Paul Ledoux, directed by Jim Warren, with Derek Aasland, Christopher Britton, Ramona Gilmour-Darling, Richard Harte, Kate Hemblen, Christopher Kelk and Tamsin Kelsey. Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People (165 Front East). Runs to December 16, Saturday 2 and 7 pm (except October 27), Sunday 11 am and 3 pm, October 28 gala 11:30 am. $18-$28. 416-862-2222. Rating: NNN
paul ledoux's adaptation of the children's classic The Secret Garden catches the book's youthful drive and gothic qualities, but unfortunately falls apart in its final few minutes.In fairness, the problem isn't just the adaptation. Ledoux and director Jim Warren create an engaging atmosphere from the start, when young, orphaned Mary arrives from India to live with her reclusive uncle in Yorkshire. Over the course of the show, Mary awakens to her own emotional strengths -- the story is about the importance of caring for others, on several levels -- and in the process effects a positive change in the household and, implicitly, in the garden of the title, which has been locked away since a long-ago family tragedy.
Warren moves the action along briskly, and the cast's women give the piece its heart. Ramona Gilmour-Darling makes an exuberant and believable Mary, Kate Hemblen generates genuine warmth as the maid, Martha, and Tamsin Kelsey takes care to give tart housekeeper Mrs. Medlock some underlying humanity. Hemblen and Kelsey, two talented actors we should be seeing more frequently, nail their potentially stereotyped roles from the moment they appear.
Derek Aasland as Mary's cousin is suitably petulant and withdrawn at first, later blossoming into life just like the garden, and Richard Harte's nature-boy Dickon is also a positive force. But as the gardener, Ben, Christopher Kelk is all outward show, and Christopher Britton as both the lord of the manor and his physician cousin conveys no feelings at all.
His blankness undermines the father/son reconciliation at the end -- it's rushed anyway, as is the reason for the father's aloofness -- and thereby destroys the emotional conclusion that's owed to the audience.