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Through the Eyes of Teen Critics

Every season a group of High School students participate in STC’s Teen Critic Program. These students attend the productions, participate in workshops and craft critical reviews reflecting their unique perspectives on the performances.

Click here to find out more about the Teen Critic program.



The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Secret Garden, directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Teresa Wood.


Malaika Bhayana, 10th grade, Bethesda Chevy Chase High School

Step inside The Secret Garden and for two hours be transported to a beautiful world; a world with magical gardens and gothic castles—where mysteries fill the air. This musical will make you laugh, cry, dance and sing all at once.

The sets and lighting were by far the most amazing part of this show.  From the stunning opening tableau to the final visual, I felt completely immersed in the story. The sets designed by Anna Louizos added depth to the stage and made it feel like there was an entire world just beyond the curtains. The lighting designed by Michael Baldassari added yet another unique layer to the story by bathing the spirits in blue lights to distinguish them from the living. The transition from the stark, eerie lighting at the start of the play to the rosy, playful lighting at the end helped reinforce the theme of hope that ran as an undercurrent throughout the story.


Mia Randers-Pehrson, 9th grade, Homeschool

Directed by David Armstrong, the classic story of orphaned Mary Lennox (the engaging Anya Rothman) traveling from India to the unfamiliar moors of Yorkshire, England is brought to life in this haunting musical. There she is under the care of her reclusive hunchback uncle. Rothman played Mary Lennox well, presenting a spoiled child who—through her deceased Aunt’s hidden garden—discovers the power of kindness. Her tantrum was especially memorable, as she ran around screaming and throwing tea cakes. Equally satisfying was her unbending stubbornness and eventual acceptance of her new family.


The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Secret Garden, directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Madeline Breyfogle, 11th grade, Battlefield High School

Adapted from the book of the same name, the musical opens with an entire family and their servants being killed by cholera— except for Mary Lennox, played by Anya Rothman (who gave an exceptional portrayal of a spoiled yet displaced child)- the nine year old daughter of an army captain and his convivial wife. She is sent to live with her hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven, (Michael Xavier) who is still reeling from the decade old loss of his wife, Lily. Michael Xavier has a wonderful voice and conveys the persona of a broken and jaded man living in a dilapidated mansion wonderfully.

Mary and her uncle are both haunted by those they have lost. These ghosts dreamily flit and dance about the stage dressed all in white. They attempt to steer Mary and Archibald in the right direction; moving the living toward finding a new family and happiness in their current circumstances. The contrast between these white-clad figures and the pale green of the set is a beautiful symbol of the spirits’ separation from their loved ones.


Renée Deminne, 10th grade, St. Charles High School

The musical aspects of this show were phenomenal.  The orchestra may be hidden but was key in this unforgettable performance.  Led by Rick Fox, they add to the vivid atmosphere with rustic musical themes and exotic Indian melodies.  Lizzie Klemperer as the deceased Lily contributes her beautiful, almost operatic voice in songs such as “Come to My Garden.

The lighting and scenery was one of the most impressive aspects of the play.  Scenic director Anna Louizos creates the dark and gloomy atmosphere that blossoms dramatically with the coming of spring into a beautiful garden.  Lighting director Mike Baldassari slowly lights up the stage with the progression of the characters’ own enlightenment.  The eerie blue light cast on the ghosts with their all white costumes (designed by Ann Hould-Ward) gives them an authentic ghostly appearance.


The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Secret Garden, directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Talia Zitner, 10th grade, Woodrow Wilson High School

One of the most unique parts of The Secret Garden were the various “spirits” that stalked the stage, dancing and singing eerily among the hallways of the Manor and flitting around the garden. They represented all the loved ones Mary and the other characters had lost, and often guided them in the right direction throughout the performance. This gave the show a very personal and ethereal touch, as the ghosts dressed in all white and were bathed in a glowing blue light. The Secret Garden did exactly as it intended to do: inspired the audience to remain “wick!”

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