Olney Theatre Center reminds us of what a lovely and sublime Broadway musical The Secret Garden is. If only the company's production could adequately match the artistry of the piece, there'd be something worth rejoicing about right now in the suburban Maryland hinterland.
Sadly, that's not the case in OTC's cumbersome effort that's sorely missing the sense of whimsy and effortless fantasy that Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon's 1991 work calls for. Much of the blame falls on scenic designer Daniel Conway, who has burdened the cast with unwieldy, unattractive set pieces they must constantly maneuver around the stage to evoke the hallways and gardens of an early-20th-century English manor house where young Mary Lennox (Rita Glynn) has come to live with her Uncle Archibald (John Scherer) after losing her parents in a cholera outbreak in Colonial India where she grew up.
Compounded with poor, dull lighting by Scott Pinkney, Conway's design also relies heavily on Power Point-like projections of period architectural elements and exterior scenes. (Olney used a similar technique to fine effect last summer in the documentary-like Laramie Project, but you're ripping me out of my 1906 reverie when the same pointer I see on my computer screen every day pops up on stage.)
Despite the brouhaha of stagecraft, director John Going manages to pull off some occasional touching moments, especially in the second act character developments with Archibald and his brother Neville (Christopher Flint), both of whom are exceptionally well-sung and well-acted by Scherer and Flint. Sherri L. Edelen also emerges with a shining rendition of the servant Martha, so instrumental to Mary's emergence as a redemptive force in the lives of those around her. It's just not enough, though, to make this a Garden worth visiting.
Through December 29th at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road in Olney, Md. Tickets are $15 to $35. Call 301-924-3400. Visit www.olneytheatre.org.