The Gargoyle Garden
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
August 10, 2008
Let me start by saying that I adore dark theatre, especially for children. I'm a big fan of Tim Burton's work, I love Roald Dahl and I have since I was very young. The Gargoyle Garden, a new FringeJR musical by Jeff LaGreca and B. Allen Schulz, taps into that vein; this show has tons of potential, but doesn't quite get there.
The story is narrated by the Chimney-man and follows a ten-year-old boy, Edgar Allen Densmore, at The Piedmont Private School for Wayward, Warped and Misplaced Children, the boarding school where his selfish, wealthy, alcoholic parents have left him. Poor Edgar is tormented by an extremely sadistic and strange religious figure at the school, Brother Keyes, who happily beats the children with a belt of his "own design." Edgar feels lonely and lost and so goes to his favorite spot on the roof, a place packed with gargoyle statues, to read letters from his parents and to feel sorry for himself. This of course is not allowed and he is caught by Brother Keyes and thrown into the "Get Right Room" where he meets Annabel Lee, another misfit who is there for being different.
What I found difficult was that supposedly this is a school for outcasts and yet these two children seem to be outcasts among outcasts, but we never see why. For all we can tell, the whole school is filled with kids just like Edgar and Annabel. Wouldn't it be more effective to have them be at a prim and proper boarding school where these two misfits exist?
The music, played live in the space, begins with a dark, melancholy ballad. There is simply too much setup of how miserable Edgar is. The show only really comes to life when the gargoyles...well...come to life! Apparently they get to do this "every 40 years or so." They get fun songs, cute bits, and teach a lovely lesson of karma to Edgar, that he doesn't really seem to need. The person who needs the lesson is Brother Keyes, but he learns it the hard way and never gets a chance to employ the lesson he learned. The other lesson in the play is "don't give up," which comes from nowhere, but admittedly is a good lesson.
The direction (by LaGreca) is sometimes choppy and awkward and pitched more toward dead center than it ought to be. There is a lot of standing when there could be movement. The cast does its best with the material. Allan Gillespie as the narrator has a beautiful voice, but doesn't really succeed in leading the audience into the show's fantasy world. John C. Taylor is effective as Brother Keyes. But it is the child actors, Patrick Henney as Edgar Allen and Emily Bordonaro as Annabel Lee, who really impress with their honesty. Where some kids might be turned off by the long, slow songs, dark content, and off-feel, the fact that there are actually two kids IN the show might possibly draw them in.
Overall, I think The Gargoyle Garden has a lot of potential, but I think the creative team has more work to do to make this show work. I think the group should take their own advice—"don't give up."