GreenMan Theatre's original adaptation of the children's book "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett opens Friday, April 5, in Elmhurst. Linda Roberts, a veteran actor and director with numerous Chicago area theater companies, adapted Burnett's book and directs the world premiere.
The plot of the novel follows orphan Mary Lennox, who travels from India to Yorkshire, England, to live with her uncle Archibald Craven after the death of her parents. Her uncle is suffering after the loss of his wife, and has closed off the garden that Mrs. Craven lovingly cared for during her life by hiding the key to the locked gate. As Mary becomes friendly with her maidservant Martha, the gardener Ben Weatherstaff, and a robin to whom she attaches human traits, she meets Martha's brother Dickon. Mary and Dickon become fast friends. Mary also meets her presumed sickly cousin Colin, and initiates a plan to gain entry into the secret garden.
Roberts has assembled a cast of local actors for the tale of rebirth and the healing power of love.
The performers and their characters are: Nina Dolan of Medinah as Mary; Paul Safyan of Wheeling as Archibald Craven; Elliot DeGrace of Elmhurst as Diction; Marki Kaim of Elk Grove Village as Martha; Jonathan Santos of Elmhurst as Colin; Joe Delaloye of La Grange as Ben Weatherstaff; Tricia Madison Boren of Darien as Mrs. Sowerby; and Denise D'Asto of Darien as Mrs. Medlock. Erin Stone of Elmhurst is the puppeteer who brings the little bird dubbed Robin to life.
The cast has to take on standard British or Yorkshire dialects to portray their characters, a daunting task for some adults not to mention child actors just beginning their theater careers.
The actors recently discussed their thoughts on performing the show for GreenMan audiences.
Nina Dolan, who is 10 years old, just like Mary, embraces the challenges of being the lead character.
"I think to portray a girl from 100 years ago is very fun," she says. "I get to experience modern life and life from a century ago. My mother especially thinks this is a wonderful opportunity for me to experience theater at such a young age."
Safyan notes how excited he is about the job Roberts did in adapting the well-known book.
"I read the book for the first time, and I was extremely pleased with how Linda had condensed a complex series of events into a manageable length for a play," he says. "I think it is superior to the musical adaptation and the movie that are both better known."
Kaim also praises Roberts, saying, "Linda, in particular, put the show together in a way that everyone could understand, even if they don't have background knowledge, which is key for audience members to be able to have an enjoyable experience."
D'Asto has worked with GreenMan Theatre before, but the rest of the cast will appear in their first show with the troupe.
"So many children (will) be involved, as well as puppets, which I believe is fascinating for an adult audience to watch, as well as an audience of children," she says. "I also was pleasantly surprised that the entire cast was expected to deliver their lines in either a Yorkshire — not easy — or British R.P. dialect, which is a challenge in itself for many actors."
DeGrace also had thoughts on the production and dialects: "I like the sense of mystery and adventure that surrounded the entire storyline, and, wow, the accents."
The production is described as something the whole family can enjoy, with performances taking place April 5, 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14. Friday shows begin at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday shows start at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday shows at 2 p.m.
All performances take place in Asbury Hall at First United Methodist Church, 232 S. York Road, Elmhurst. Tickets cost $17 for adults, $15 for students and seniors. Tickets cost $10 for ages 12 and younger. Reservations can be made at www.greenmantheatre.org or by calling 630-464-2646.
The actors are reluctant for the show to end.
"This is my debut performance with GreenMan Theatre, but within the first read-through, I could tell the show would be successful; working with this cast has been very easy and saying good bye will be a challenge," Kaim says.
D'Asto adds, "I love working with GreenMan Theatre and its directors and members. It is a cohesive group that, no matter how many new members it takes on, remains one that is open and warm and vibrant, where an actor's — or anyone's — involvement seems part of a cozy, accepting family … much of it due to the vision and hard work of its board and artistic director."
For this production, Karen Snow of La Grange will create scenes on silk screen during the show. In addition, an April 13 acting class for ages 6 and older, capped by attending a performance, is offered through the Elmhurst Park District.
About the troupe
GreenMan Theatre Troupe is a non-profit organization that has been presenting plays in Elmhurst since being founded in 2003, by Jill Perez, David Soria and Carole Thorpe. It also offers classes and workshops for members and the community, and welcomes new members and participants in all aspects of theater production. GreenMan programs are partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.
"The Secret Garden" has received corporate funding from BMO Harris Bank.