Are you on speaking terms with the flowers in your life? Do you know a brook that thinks it’s bigger than it is? Those are some of the questions raised by the latest production from The Footlights Theatre in Falmouth.

“The Immigrant Garden,” a play adapted by Stephanie Voss from a novel by Caroline Wood, grows out of the heart-warming correspondence of two women in 1910 as they sit at their writing desks thousands of miles apart.

Cecily Barnes, an introspective 17-year-old with an old soul who lives in Washington state, writes to Louise Beauchamp, a much older English garden expert with a still-youthful mind. Cecily’s initial hope is to import some seeds to start a garden. It will be a garden full of flowers that have come to grow in a new land, hence the title.

The relationship that blossoms from their correspondence takes them deeply into the do’s and don’ts of gardening, with plenty of practical, if sometimes fancifully described, tips offered. But it is the more general wisdom passed from one to the other and the life lessons thereby gained that provide the magic in this quietly charming bit of theater.

Rose Cannon, a University of Southern Maine student with a growing acting resume, spiritedly establishes her Cecily’s combination of youthful wonder, adolescent unease and proto-feminist leanings. Cecily’s doubts about her relationship with her aloof father are poignantly revealed in passages that seem to wander far from her beloved garden. But, in the world as conceived by her British pen pal, they may not.

Cecily finds a friend and sort of mother figure in the Englishwoman who has learned from her own past struggles to accept the teachings of nature.

Carol Davenport, with a regional British accent, gives her Louise a hard-earned wisdom that is always delivered with affection. It is suggested that some may find Louise a trifle “bohemian” in her combining of references to Emersonian transcendentalism with hints on how to sensitively expel a slug from the garden. But her advice to the young Cecily on the proper way to cultivate gardens and, by extension, human relationships opens paths for growth in both areas. Her observations on the ways of the opposite sex produced some of the hardiest laughs on opening night.

Director Michael J. Tobin, who also has a small role in the play as an orchardist, has done his part to let the poetry of the author’s words and the way it flourishes within the nearly lost art of letter writing draw the audience close to the well-appointed and sensitively lit period set of his design.

Cathy Counts rounds out the cast as a relater of news that moistened some eyes in the audience.

It is in the stillness of a well-kept garden, Louise writes at one point, that “Flowers speak the language of the soul.” So does this play.

 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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