My Secret Garden
nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
February 9, 2007
Nancy Friday is one of the names usually mentioned when speaking about the early '70s era of "women awakening." Her groundbreaking book of interviews My Secret Garden placed ladies' sexual fantasies under the public eye and allowed an open discussion about a taboo subject at that time. "I loved original work, going places where no woman had gone before. And so I began interviewing women and writing about the subject in every magazine that was interested. It was as if we were this undiscovered continent, the interior life of women's sexuality," recalls Friday, who signs the adaptation of her book together with director Christopher Scott.
This documentary play resulted after a workshop and comes to off-Broadway thanks to producer Eric Krebs.
Although more than three decades have passed since the best-selling My Secret Garden caused explosive comments worldwide and its author became a favorite guest speaker of talk shows and news broadcasts, the debate over the role of women in society and arts is not over. A few waves of feminism couldn't bring to a favorable resolution women's struggle to self-determination and equality—neither in life nor in the arts. As performer-playwright Lisa Kron has said, women's topics are still seen as specific, while men's topics are seen as universal.
I therefore salute Krebs's initiative to offer exposure to a "specific" play about women's erotic fantasies.
However, the play can't be as groundbreaking as the book was, because it comes after very successful documentary theatre pieces such as Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues and TV series like Sex and the City, which tackle similar issues with more humor and wit.
The script of My Secret Garden is well crafted, balancing the monologues/confessions with more dynamic dramatic scenes that push the action forward. The "action" follows Nancy's story—the journalist working on her book of interviews, a self-reflective plot device that functions appropriately without provoking huge surprises. There is a small twist with Nancy having doubts about what she was doing, so that her journey doesn't seem completely flat and the expected ending doesn't feel unearned.
The four actresses (Mimi Quillin, McKenzie Frye, Lyn Philistine, and Jane Blass) deliver skilled performances in a show that seems to scream from time to time: "I just want to be a musical!" But unfortunately it is not. It's just a decent take on a formerly-indecent theme that makes for a decently indecent yet enjoyable evening in the theatre.
Director Christopher Scott does a good job in shaping the performance and creating a fast rhythm of transitions from one scene to the next, and generally inducing a fresh air to the topic, despite—for instance—the artificial set filled with banal plastic flowers.
However, the production offers a stimulating experience for everyone—cutting-edge for some, agreeable for others.