Erin Shaughnessy as Laurel and Noel Desiato as Miss Madrigal in The Chalk Garden. — Trish Haldin Photography

Erin Shaughnessy as Laurel and Noel Desiato as Miss Madrigal in The Chalk Garden. — Trish Haldin Photography

Sherman Playhouse, Sherman: It’s difficult to rate an opening night production when Act I is not so good and Act II is really great, especially when you know that the cast will be pulling Act I up to snuff by the next performance. That’s just the case with the Sherman Playhouse’s production of Enid Bagnold’s The Chalk Garden; so I would venture to say that all the hiccups will be ironed out and you’re in for a very good show when you do go.

The title of the play is symbolic and refers to the dowager who can’t grow much in her garden. One cannot grow a fine garden when the soil is chalky. The garden is also closely aligned symbolically to Laurel, a precocious teen with too little nurture and too much conflict. She lives with her grandmother Mrs. St. Maugham. Nothing grows well in the home of upright and uptight Mrs. St. Maugham – not her garden and not her grandchild. When a governess is looked for, Miss Madrigal, with no references, is the only one who will take on the rambunctious young lady. There is a reason why she has no references, but that’s the best part of a mystery that will keep you guessing throughout the production.

Jody Bayer looks right for the role as proper Mrs. St. Maugham and plays it consistently. Noel Desiato plays Miss Madrigal with plenty of suspicious looking gestures. A quintessential actress, Desiato’s performance is riveting. Her gestures and body language are always in the moment.  Erin Shaughnessy’s mischievous Laurel is full of spunk. Shaughnessy colors her teenage character bright and brassy, but renders her performance a sweet soufflé. John Coleman Taylor’s performance as the judge is first rate. His every word and motion convinces us that he represents the law of the land. Priscilla Squiers as Olivia, Laurel’s mother, delivers her usual fine performance. Also featured in the cast are: Charles Roth, Shelia Echevarria, and Lynn Nissenbaum.

Directed by Chesley Plemmons, who has breathed new life into this classic, the story unfolds naturally and perfectly timed, especially in the second act. Joseph Russo’s scenic design must be seen. It is absolutely gorgeous. Not only does the main stage look like an upscale home, but the panorama view is sensational. Russo also designed the costumes which  perfectly fit the actors characteristically as well as physically.   Al Chiappetta’s lighting and David White’s sound design punctuated the production well. The show plays through Oct. 9. Box office: 860-354-3622.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association.  She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com