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Secret Garden turns up in the middle of the forest
Kitsap Sun Preview, July 15, 2013, by Michael Moore
BREMERTON — Craig Schieber sees dead people ... as a resource.
The Mountaineers Players director puts ’em to work.
“We’ve certainly had some experience here recently with ghosts,” said Schieber, who directed the Mountaineers recent production of “Fiddler on the Roof” (funny ghosts), and currently is prepping “The Secret Garden” (melancholy ghosts), both at the al fresco Kitsap Forest Theater.
“The ghosts become the walls, they become part of the scenery,” said Schieber. “We take them and make them functional.”
And it doesn’t stop with ghosts, either. If you’re in an ensemble, you’re conscripted, either to move set pieces, or to actually be set pieces.
“One of the rules I have is to never have an empty stage,” said Schieber, who directs at least one of the Mountaineers’ two annual productions at the bucolic amphitheater carved out of a hillside nestled among blooming rhododendrons and hulking evergreens. “When we use the chorus (and in this case the ghosts) like that, it really helps us keep things moving, and not have any of those dead spots.”
The set this time — both the ghostly and non-ghostly aspects of it — is being handled by Barbara Klingberg, well known around Kitsap more for her costuming wizardry. But the former Broadway costumer, who’s now a Bainbridge-based architect, told Schieber she had wanted to do a set for a long time.
“It makes a lot of sense, actually,” Schieber said of Klingberg, who also acts on occasion and has whipped up the costumes for productions at Ovation! Musical Theatre Bainbridge and Bainbridge Performing Arts in addition to her work for the Mountaineers. “The two things work so closely together, she would want to have her eye on both of them.”
The cast is pretty Kitsap-centric, compared to the Mountaineers’ normally Seattle-dominated companies. It includes Eric Emans, who was in KFT’s “Robin Hood” several years ago, and has appeared on several other Kitsap stages since, as Neville Craven; Sara Henley-Hicks, a regular at Port Orchard’s Western Washington Center for the Arts before beginning her college studies at Cornish, as Lily; Carl Olson, a venerable actor and director around Kitsap, in two supporting roles; and Cymbeline Brody, a recent addition to the BPA company, as Colin.
The “Secret Garden” role is Brody’s third (after BPA’s “Tommy” and “Distracted” last season) that calls for the seventh-grader to play against gender.
As Mary Lennox, the little orphan who’s relocated from India to England to live with her distant uncle, Schieber has Jasmine Harrick, who’s fresh from KFT’s spring production of “Narnia,” in which she played Lucy Pevensie.
The cast also includes first-time Mountaineer Stephen Jones, a Seattle Opera veteran who’ll play Archibald Craven; Adrienne Easton as Mrs. Medlock; Tristan Carruthers as Dickon; and Britt Boyd as Martha.
Boyd might qualify for some kind of “extra-mile” award for her work in the show.
“She’s missing her sister’s wedding to be here,” Schieber said of the Seattle actress. “She’ll get to go to all the other pre-wedding stuff, like the bachelorette party, but then we open. She really wanted to be in the show; she’s played Mary in two other productions.”
Choreography is by Schieber’s longtime KFT ally, Guy Caridi, and musical direction is by Julia Thornton, doing her first work with the company after working with Schieber last year on a production of “Cinderella” at the Snoqualmie Falls amthitheater. Her singers will be backed by keyboardist Greg Smith.
The ghosts in Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s musical, adapted from the beloved children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, are most of the people Mary knew in India, before they were wiped out by a cholera epidemic. She’s sent to live with an uncle she’s never met, in a manor that boasts some ghosts of its own. Both Craven brothers are mourning Archibald’s long-dead wife, Lily, who haunts the place and tortures them both.
Meanwhile, Mary sets about transforming the place — and the people in it — from gloomy to giddy, enlisting the help of her maid, the gardener and her bedridden cousin to help her cheer things up.
The show is fairly new. It made its Broadway debut in 1991, earning Norman a Tony Award for Best Book, and didn’t open on London’s West End until 2001. It’s been done locally twice in recent years — at BPA in 2008, and CSTOCK in ’07.