Echoes in the Garden

Chain Theatre, Manhattan

A wonderful performance—except for two little things…

By Andrew Andrews

Arthur Aulisi, Cheri Wicks, Campbell Symes and Jake Roberson as Henry and Marion Hemmerich at different points in the characters’ lives. Publicity photos by Basil Rodericks.

Retired white pastor Henry Hemmerich has been asked to deliver the golden anniversary sermon for the Reformation Church in Wyomissing PA, and he’s invited his daughter Ruth to attend despite his wife Marion’s objection.

Ruth hasn’t been home for nearly five years, having moved to New York City after graduating college and marrying a black man against her parents’ wishes.

When Ruth arrives with her young bi-racial son who’s never met his grandmother, Marion repeatedly expresses her disapproval of their presence as Ruth tries to force her to accept them and Henry tries to calm the situation.

With much of the back story of Henry and Marion’s early marriage performed by younger actors as the older characters watch and reminisce, Echoes in the Garden dramatizes the playwright’s own experience visiting his estranged grandparents in the early 1960s.

I had two small issues with our first preview performance—but rather than starting with the critique, let me tell you what I most enjoyed about it:

Thursday Farrar, Jace Swinger and Sarah Young in American Bard Theater Company’s production of Echoes In The Garden at The Chain Theatre in Midtown.
  • Casting: The actors are all well-cast, and having the older actors observe their younger counterparts is a magnificent way to avoid the confusion caused when a single person represents the same character at different life stages. At this price it would be tempting to justify a smaller cast, but I’m glad the company didn’t do so.
  • Plot: While the subject matter alone is sufficient to stir emotions regardless of one’s opinions, the devil, as they say, is in the details. Playwright Ross G. Hewitt had only a few broken memories to piece together, yet the holes and conclusions have been thoroughly thought through. We may never know the accuracy of the results, but they’re compelling and entertaining all the same.
  • Set: The budget for the scenic design seems to have been pushed to the limits, resulting in a stage that beautifully depicts a small town home and garden, with no need to stretch the imagination that the action takes place in multiple spaces.

On the critical side, while Marion is clearly the main character in this story, it’s Ruth who’s presented as more righteous. This created a thin but impenetrable barrier that prevented me from feeling as invested in the story as I would have liked.

I attended the first preview performance, and a surprising number of cast members made more than the usual number of noticeable slip-ups. Hopefully they’ll be better rehearsed by the time you attend, in which case you’ll probably give the show at least one more star than I’m able to give it here.

Andrew Andrews attended Echoes in the Garden at Chain Theatre in Manhattan on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 @ 7:00pm to write this review.