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Play review: Can you figure out Miss Madrigan's secret?

OKOBOJI, Iowa -- "One can lie, but the truth is more interesting." The truth seems to be what each character is hiding in the mysterious play, "The Chalk Garden" by Enid Bagnold. The cast at the Okoboji Summer Theatre embodied these richly written characters and ended to an instant standing ovation in one of the last plays of the season. The many plot twists will have audiences engaged from start to finish.

The play takes place in Sussex, England, in 1956 and is wrapped around Miss Madrigal, a hired female companion in the house of Mrs. St. Maugham (Erin Hanson), who can't seem to manage a garden, let alone her wild household, by herself. Hanson brings to mind the family member that everyone has who believes in the old-fashioned way of things and makes St. Maugham relatable and laughable.

At the opening of the play, three women reply to St. Maugham's advertisement for a governess position in the house. Two applicants scurry away as quickly as possible, leaving Miss Madrigal as the only option. Frazzled by the constant circus in her household, Mrs. St. Maugham hires the mysterious woman without knowing anything about her.

Miss Madrigal is put in charge of handling St. Maugham's clever and spoiled granddaughter, Laurel. The child had been just one responsibility of the absent-minded Maitland, the servant of the house played by resident actor Rob Doyen. Doyen gives a hilarious portrayal of Maitland, who divides his time between appeasing Laurel and running around for Mrs. St. Maugham. Ashlee James plays the blunt and evasive Miss Madrigal with grace and has the audience captivated, not only by what she says but by what she leaves out.

From the moment she prances on to the stage to the final curtain, Lauren Maslanik charms the audience with her natural and spunky portrayal of Laurel. Laurel's fast and witty responses are delivered with the earnestness of a child but a wickedly sharp mind.

When the second act comes around, the garden is thriving and Laurel has calmed considerably under Miss Madrigal's watch. Laurel and Maitland are both curious about Miss Madrigal's past, but she manages to elude them until a judge arrives as a guest of the house. The judge, played by guest actor Addison Myers, unknowingly gives them a hint about Miss Madrigal's secret.

The set, made to look like an English manor house, was furnished stylishly by scenic designer Liz Freese and properties mistress Maggie Tripp.

Directed by Beth Leonard, "The Chalk Garden" has two 10-minute intermissions and runs nightly through Sunday at the Okoboji Summer Theatre in Okoboji, Iowa. Come and see if you can figure out the truth before Mrs. St. Maugham does.