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Stage Right's production of 'Secret Garden' is heart-tugging show

| Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune Review
(from back left) Alex Noble of New York, Cindy Baltzer of Latrobe, Renata Marino of Greensburg, (front left) Anthony Marino of Greensburg, and Grace Rusnica of Irwin, rehearse for the Stage Right upcoming production of the 'Secret Garden', on Thursday evening, February 20, 2014, at Stage Right, Greensburg, PA.

Archibald Craven, the lord of Misselthwaite Manor, Yorkshire, England, in Stage Right's production of “The Secret Garden,” isn't the carefree, well-to-do aristocrat like his counterpart, the Earl of Grantham in television's “Downton Abbey.”

Craven, portrayed by Tony Marino — who also directs the musical with assistant director and choreographer Renata Marino — is suffering from family issues that have made him saddened and distraught. His beloved wife died a decade ago during childbirth, and his son, Colin, is confined to his bed, unable to walk from an unknown condition.

When his 10-year-old niece, Mary Lennox, comes to live with Craven after she loses her parents to a cholera epidemic in India, his grief eventually is lifted through a discovery made by the young girl outside his home — a beautiful secret garden that once belonged to his wife.

Tony Marino says he always wanted to play the Archie Craven role, ever since he portrayed the character's brother in his first show with Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

“At the time, I remember thinking I can't wait until I can do this. It's a beautiful character that any actor would love to play. Having arrived at the right time in my life as an actor, I am really excited to take on this challenging role.”

In the Stage Right production, the role of Mary is triple-cast with each of the three girls, Grace Rusnica of Irwin and Julia Boyle and Carolyn Jerz of Greensburg, acting in one performance this weekend.

Carolyn Jerz, a home-schooled 11-year-old student, shares stage time in “The Secret Garden” with her father, Dennis Jerz, who portrays Ben Weatherstaff, the head gardener. It's not the first time she has been in productions with her dad. She also has acted with two other members of her family, her mother, Leigh, and older brother Peter.

Carolyn says she has seen one of the movie versions of “The Secret Garden” and always thought it would be cool to play Mary.

“When she comes to the strange house and finds the garden, she uses it as her sanctuary when she needs to be by herself,” Carolyn says. One of her favorite songs that her character sings in the musical is the pretty tune, “The Girl I Mean to Be.”

“The story really tugs at your heart,” Renata Marino says. “This little girl is all alone in the world and living in a new and strange place, but she finds a way to move on and feel better and grow. The metaphor of the garden coming back to life and how she is the cause of that, as well as how other characters she touches are healed and grow and are reborn, is really powerful and moving.”

Also in the cast are Cynthia Baltzer as Lilly, David Mahokey as Dr. Craven, Alex Noble as Albert Lennox, Renata Marino as Rose, Ben Pimental as Dickon and Anna Stewart as Martha.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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