The Secret Garden brings an upbeat message and wonderful music to the Willows Theatre

Well, the “Secret” is out and the Willows theatre in the Willows Shopping Center in Concord wants everyone to know about it.

The Secret Garden, a classic book by Frances Hodgson Burnett written in 1909, and revered by thousands of readers for decades, was transposed into a theatrical production for Broadway in 1991 starring Mandy Patinkin as Uncle Archie and Daisy Eagan as young Mary.

The Willows Theatre has brought back this production which it produced a few years ago to resounding praise. With an almost entirely new cast and a totally new set, this production is a great trip down a musical memory lane with a fresh feel theatrically.

The story begins in the early 1900’s in India, where young Mistress Mary Lennox discovers that her immediate family, friends, and servants have all died in a cholera epidemic. When the authorities discover that this 9 year old girl is alive, they send her by steamer back to England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, in his 100 room mansion on the edge of the mysterious moors of Yorkshire, England. Her recluse uncle Archie has been in an extended state of mourning following the death of his wife Lilly during childbirth, a premature childbirth initiated by a fall from her favorite apple tree 10 years earlier in her beloved garden. Lilly left behind her newborn son who was named Colin by his father. Colin, who has been bedridden with a mysterious illness most of his life, is attended to by his uncle, Dr Neville Craven (his father’s younger brother), a head housekeeper by the name of Mrs. Medlock, and a vivacious and upbeat servant girl by the name of Martha.

When Mary arrives in the dark and foreboding atmosphere of the stately mansion, called Misselthwaite Manor, she is warned by Mrs. Medlock (played by Lucinda Hitchcock Cone) that her uncle Archie (Russ Lorenson) is unlikely to spend much, if any time with her, and she is cautioned not to wander the hallways of the oppressive feeling home.

“- - - And then Mary Lennox was led up a broad staircase and down a long corridor and up a short flight of steps and through another corridor and another, until a door opened in a wall and she found herself in a room with a fire in it and a supper on a table.Mrs. Medlock said unceremoniously:
Well, here you are! This room and the next are where you'll live--and you must keep to them. Don't you forget that.I
t was in this way Mistress Mary arrived at Misselthwaite Manor and she had perhaps never felt quite so contrary in all her life. - -“ (excerpt from chapter 3 of the book)

Mary (played in this show by Kathy Corbus) is a spoiled, self-absorbed and lonely child, having been attended to entirely by servants during the nine years of her life in India. She had been dressed, bathed, and taught entirely by her parents’ staff of Indian servants, while they, her parents, spent their every waking hour with friends or at parties of state, entertaining themselves. Here at Misslethwaite, she has but one servant, Martha (Kristin Stokes), who will stand for none of Miss Mary’s ill manners. Martha tells Mary she will have to dress and feed herself, and she’d better get used to it quite promptly, which she commands in a loving and playful way.

Before long Mary is won over by Martha and in Mary’s unauthorized explorations, she discovers Colin Craven, the lonely and sickly son who (unable to walk without leg braces) has been hidden away in another section of the house, confined and treated as an incurable cripple.

Mary also discovers the gruff and sometimes ill tempered family gardener, Ben Weatherstaff (Rick Williams); Martha’s whimsical, nature-loving brother, Dickon (Jeff Bryant); and an enclosed, locked hidden garden. With Dickon’s help, Mary finds a way to enter the walled-in garden and with the help of her new-found friends, sets out to restore the garden’s previous splendor. When Archie’s cynical and deceitful brother, Dr. Neville Craven (played well by Mark Farrell) learns of Mary’s contempt for his disparaging and vindictive instructions, he attempts to send Mary away to a boarding school. He is determined that Colin is not to get well, for his own ulterior motives.

Mary has to learn to deal with one difficult situation after another, but with her pluck and determination, life is about to be transformed.

While the music and story are as engaging as ever, the staging is a little overbearing and awkward. The counter-revolving, multi-faceted set works well, but displaces so much of the center stage, that it almost overpowers the feel of the production. It restricts other staging opportunities inherent in this production.

The music (a live, full 14 piece orchestra), the lyrics, and the wonderful voices (in particular, Elizabeth Hunter and Laura Pederson-Schultz) complement this production.

The Secret Garden plays Wednesdays (at 3:30 and 7:30 pm), Thursdays (at 7:30 pm), Fridays (at 8 pm), Saturdays (at 2 pm and 8 pm), and Sundays at 3 p.m., now through March 25th. Tickets range between $20 and $38. The Willows Theater is at 1975 Diamond Boulevard in Concord (between REI Sporting Goods and Comp USA). Call (925) 798-1300 for tickets and reservations or visit their web-site at

Off Broadway West Theatre Company blossoms with insightful Steven Deitz play!

A new professional theatrical company has just opened in San Francisco, under the name, Off Broadway West Theatre Company, and utilizing the Phoenix Theatre at 414 Mason Street, on the 6th floor, in San Francisco. Their first production, “Fiction”, is a very intriguing play by Steven Dietz, a play that captivates and surprises and satisfies. This first production, under the direction of Richard Harder, is hard-edged and thought-provoking, an excellent first effort that brought appreciative ovations at intermission and the closing curtain.

A husband and a wife are both noted authors. Michael Waterman (played by Michael Medici) has had several of his books translated into movies and many have had great financial and literary success. While his wife, Linda (Joyce Henderson), has written fewer books, she is respected in her field and uses her writing to facilitate and augment her college instructional materials, where she teaches students the craft of writing. They both have had a fairly successful marriage and as the play opens, we learn that they have just learned that his wife has a terminal form of cancer.

While dealing with the many complicated emotions and issues one has to face with a life threatening illness, Linda comes to the realization that following her death, she will want her husband to peruse her personal diaries, to bring their relationship to full closure. At the same time, she realizes that unless she reads her husband’s diaries before she dies, she will feel cheated. She brings to him her desire to read his personal diaries prior her death, and you can see and feel his reluctance to allow her to do so.

Before long, we discover that his diaries will reveal a secret life that is somewhat different than the outward life known by his wife. A secret affair many years earlier in their relationship is revealed and we are soon left with many questions. Is what one writes privately to one’s self (never contemplating that anyone other than one’s self would read it), always completely forthright? Would anyone ever tend to include their fantasies and innermost private thoughts in their historical manuscript? Well, as this play demonstrates, one had better think twice about what one writes privately to one’s-self!

Abby Drake (Jennifer Bareilles), the daughter of the founder of a famous writer’s camp, was a member of its staff and helped to direct activities of the camp’s internees. Both Michael and Linda Waterman had (in their earlier careers) individually spent time in this writer’s camp and their personal experiences with Abby Drake (who was a director in that writer’s camp) has colored their entire lives in a very unique way, unbeknownst to each other, that brings us a whole new realization, a whole new perspective on their life!

This is a terrific play, a very wordy play with brilliant twists and turns, with very aggressive verbal interaction, and stinging repartee between all three characters. Playwright Steven Dietz is considered one of America’s most widely produced contemporary playwrights. “Fiction” plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., now through March 31st in The Phoenix Theatre at 414 Mason Street (sixth floor), between Gary and Post Streets in San Francisco. Call (800) 838-3006 or visit their website at for additional information. After you enter the lobby of this building you will take the elevator up to the 6th floor. The seating, while old and dated, is quite comfortable and charming. I would suggest getting to the theatre early as the seating is open. This theatre is only a couple of blocks from Union Square and about four or five blocks from the Powell Street BART station.